In Shreya Sen-Handley’s twisted-yet-brilliant collection of short stories, prepare to be indulged and unsettled in equal measure.
If you thought you have come across a feel-good, easy-breezy, after-hours dalliance; think again. Shreya Sen-Handley’s latest book, a collection of Strange Stories, is more of fodder for nightmares. The narratives do not exceed 10-12 pages and oft depict a whirlwind of events, but you are sucked in by the atmosphere, feel a connection to the characters, and gasp audibly when the ‘twist’ (or two) surprises you — all while your tea’s still warm.
But the nightmares are true. Why would Shreya do this to us, her poor readers? She comments, “I really take pleasure in everything that’s weird and wonderful about our world. I find all the little twists and turns exciting. Just look around the world today; fact is stranger than fiction.” Indeed, her stories bring to mind the classic twistedness of, say, Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, which makes sense because Dahl, and others such as Edgar Allan Poe, are her influences. She continues, “They would write cleverly constructed parts and really build up to a climax at the end.”
In a way, she’s done her bit to revive what she describes as the “classic short stories” which she found disappearing as she was growing up. “You never expected that ending in a million years. So, I thought, I should write these if no one else is. That niche needs to be filled,” she reveals.
What further amps the creepiness equation is how Shreya has, erm, some real-life inspirations for her stories. For instance, the villa in Corfu, Greece, featured in the book’s final short story, Room For Two, is the villa in which the author stayed during her honeymoon, where she felt “the presence of something or somebody.” Spooky.
And while we’re glad these were short stories and not a single novel-length bone-chiller, in reality, the parts are greater than the sum. Shreya explains, “The range of stories I wished to tell, the weirdness of the world I wanted to capture, the many characters I wanted to include — a novel couldn’t do so at all. A book is very fractious.” Truly, the genres range from sci-fi to psy-fi, and everything else in between, and the zippy, concise writing doesn’t fall ‘short’ of anything.
It also helps the cause as we live in the Netflix-era of low attention spans and over-stimulation. A short read (although one that does not go kind on its reader) helps when, continues the author, “We’ve got so many distractions on the go. The short story format is marvellous for that. They’re bite-sized. You can read them, appreciate them, and move on.”