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Book review: <i>Mangrove Mama... And Other Tropical Tales Of Terror</i> by Janwillem Van de Wetering

This eclectic little collection of short stories is very Janwillem Van de Wetering - and I feel qualified to say that even though I've only read a total of two of his books now. His personality permeates every corner of his writing, and he has an intriguing style combined with a taste for the bizarre that combines very happily. Having read his bio, I could sort of tell why he was heading in those directions, but it certainly didn't detract from the reading experience.

The story

Mangrove Mama... And Other Tropical Tales Of Terror is a collection of seventeen short stories, most of which have previously appeared in various magazines. They are all set within the last fifty years, and are linked by their various tropical locations (although I don't know that I've every heard Japan described as tropical, but okay) and the clash of cultures within the stories. They are all mysteries in some form, and also have a fairly spiritual or not-entirely-of-this-world feel, which puts them in a class of their own. Van de Wetering also seems to relish the comparison of his characters to animals, particularly herons, and incorporates Zen philosophy. All in all, some interesting starting places! To give you an idea of what you would be reading, there is: a Papuan New Guinean tribesman describing cannibalistic customs, a vindictive Hawaiian volcano spirit, Jannie, the unscrupulous real estate retiree who has reformed and tries to help the community around the Florida Keys, a suicide note to a police officer from an artist, the death of a son ordered by a father, the unlikely demise of a man who owns an embroidery needle factory, the love between a police officer and an anarchist... and there's more. Really, there's something for everyone.

The style

Van de Wetering has a really nice writing style. It's precise and meticulous, but also loose and strings together some brilliant descriptions. The stories all have an element of weird, and the characters are so solid that they might be classed as caricatures, in a good way. Also, he manages to portray the characters as outlandish but not contrived, with a sort of "this is how it is" air about them. The heron comparisons obviously hold some significance to him; and you can tell that Van de Wetering is something of an environmentalist as he does relish the demise of people who are cruel to animals. I did find reading this all at once a bit much. I think maybe that it would be good to read it over a couple of weeks, with some other, more normal books in between. Also, the title story, Mangrove Mama, was obviously the story that Just A Corpse At Twilight was based on, and I did enjoy the extended version more. Aside from these minor points, thoroughly recommend it.

Who is this book for?

This book is for fans of the slightly odd. I think that Roal Dahl is the master of the short story, because he manages to be so bizarre, macabre, and British at the same time. I think Van de Wetering isn't too far behind, in a different way. But here's the thing. Short stories are incredibly easy to write badly. And Van de Wetering does a bang up job, so if you have a hankering to read some good short stories, give these a go!

If you like this book, you would also like...

His other books! I have reviewed Just A Corpse At Twilight, for which I think Mangrove Mama formed the inspiration, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. But he's very prolific, so you have quite a lot to choose from. And if you are after short stories, you can't go past Roal Dahl's collections of short stories for adults.

In short

Title: Mangrove Mama... and other tropical tales of terror
Author: Janwillem Van de Wetering
Publisher: Dennis McMillan Publications
ISBN: 0939767236
Year published: 1995
Pages: 289
Genre(s): Short stories
Review Type: