My Father As an Ant & Other Stories by Diana Hendry
A Review by Cynthia Rogerson
U.A.Fanthorpe claims that ‘Diana Hendry has a remarkable eye for the truth and an ability to see the otherness of the very ordinary.’ I am in full agreement. Her collection contains such a variety of subject and mood, it cannot be reduced it to a theme or trendy category – and yet, there is a commonality to everything she writes. A quirky wryness, which never strays far from compassion, and saves her work from any kind of sentimentality. And if her characters are flawed – as in the philandering husband in Trio – they are also forgiven with a rounded and detached description. To tell the unflattering truth about the emotional minutia that make up daily life – the daily dramas which are microcosms of all our large ones – and yet endear the characters to the reader: this is her triumph.
The key might be in the language itself. First and foremost, Hendry is a poet, with six collections under her belt. She is incapable of careless writing, and yet her work never appears over-worked or obtuse. She hits that blissful middle ground most readers crave: an alternate state of mind and heart, as easy to slip into as a hot bath after a hard day.
There is also the key ingredient of deceptive simplicity. These stories do not shy from small subjects, and do not feel the need to bury meaning under complex plots. It is unsurprising that Hendry is a prolific children’s author (over forty books). The Seeing was shortlisted by Costa, and for Scottish Book of the Year. Her talent for accessibility and credibility, always with an acknowledgement that (of course!) life is complex and messy - is remarkable one. Like all classic childrens’ authors and all literary novelists, Hendry never patronises.
I read this collection five months ago, and these stories are still with me – vividly. I find myself re-telling some of the stories to friends, and I can think of no stronger recommendation than this power to linger in a reader’s mind and heart. Intellectual books may be critically respected, but there is something much more magical about any book that can affect a reader emotionally and memorably. Quite simply, Hendry knows this trick.