Here’s a snippet from the Intro by the delightful Robert Shearman to Sourdough & Other Stories :
We are shaped by the stories we’re told. And the first stories we’re told are fairy tales.
Nowadays, this may not be strictly true, of course. Kids may be dangled on the knees of overprotective parents, and read stories of hungry caterpillars, or shown cartoons with easily digestible morals, or sung ballads which are all about emphasising the importance of the letter ‘B’. But the kids reject them in the end. In the end, they come back to the fairy tales, the ones that have been handed down through generations – the ones that feel elemental.
Angela Slatter’s tales too feel elemental. As you read them, you can’t but help feel you’ve read them before – or snatches of them, at any rate. Surely you heard these when you were children? They’re like the fairy tales you can only dimly remember – the lesser-known ones kept in the back of the books you read when you were small – perhaps hidden because they were stranger, and meaner, and more disturbing. The elements are all there; there are castles, and princesses, there are spinning wheels and cursed marriages.
And what Angela catches so well about the fairy tale is the very matter-of-factness of these stories of magic and weirdness. About how very casual are its cruelties. This is a world in which bargains are made that rarely serve either party well, in which a person can pull off her own thumb in order to distract an enemy, in which tongues can be cut out with only mild regret, in which souls can be lost, futures destroyed, whole identities wiped and stuck inside idiot dolls.
The effect of all of this is to create a universe in which, for all the magic and wonder to be seen, individual lives are cheap and hard and soon forgotten. And in which the very phrase ‘live happily ever after’ can be flung as an ironic rebuke …