Joanne Harris Jigs and Reels Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Jigs and Reels

Joanne Harris


UK Hardback

ISBN: 0385 606427

Publication Date: 04-01-2004

Pages: 276; Price: £15.00

Date Reviewed: 25th April 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



General Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction

12-30-03, 10-15-04

The stories in Jigs and Reels are like little peeks into the mind of the author, Joanne Harris. We've already seen the kind of work she is capable of: historical, in Five Quarters of the Orange and Holy Fools, foodie in Chocolat, and pastoral in Blackberry Wine, but the delight of a book of short stories is the range that the author can show the reader. Here, we get to see some quite menacing pictures, and they are absolutely irresistible. I defy anyone to not like - or be intrigued by - at least one of these stories.

Each story is prefaced with a short note from the author about the inspiration behind the tale, which not only gives it a personal touch but also prompts the reader to think about the things in society that the stories highlight.

To pick a favorite would be impossible, but a couple that especially stayed in my mind were Faith and Hope go Shopping and Last Train to Dogtown. The first is about two elderly ladies, who feel trapped by the nursing home in which they live, and escape to London for a day to fulfill their wildest dreams - which are a copy of Lolita and a pair of red designer shoes. Since one is blind and one in a wheel chair, the story becomes even more poignant, but is also full of reality and humor. This is in fact the first story in the book, and I was hooked from the first page!

Last Train to Dogtown is in some ways more complex. A successful - and not particularly pleasant - author finds himself trapped in a Western he had tried to forget he'd ever written. The story was left unfinished, and the characters want an ending. The genuine Old Western feeling pervades the story - but it is words, represented by the threatening stubs of pencils, which are the weapons here, not bullets. The characters advance on the writer drawing their writing implements rather than their weapons, and I loved the nuances of this.

Some of the stories are based on fairy tales (Cinderella, The Little Mermaid); some are twist-in-the-tales, and many are futuristic. It was this that surprised me, actually - Harris is a demonstrably good writer of magic realism, but the futuristic element in many of the stories, many of which are based on the world continuing the way it is now, with these things taken to extremes, was unexpected. There is even a sci-fi story The G-SUS Gene, so Jigs and Reels really does cater for all tastes. What really struck me, though, is that Harris has the best thing any writer can have: a complete lack of fear. It's as though she never wonders what people will think (and I suspect she rarely does think that!) and it's this fearlessness which gives her such a unique voice.

The publishers' blurb says that Ms Harris "finds there is a special intensity to the short story that gives it, if anything, more impact than a novel." If you don't think this can be true, read and believe! If you want to see what else she has to say about her new collection, go to for her personal comments. There is a dancing note in all of them, even the darkest - truly jigs and reels, but played by the uninvited guest at a fairy-tale wedding, with sinister and haunting undertones. These are certainly tales for our times - utterly postmodern, if you like. Her subjects are interesting and relevant to the modern world, and her treatment of them entirely her own. I can't recommend this too highly!