Review: Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

A novella by Fairlight Moderns

Genre: Historical Fiction, magical realism

Similar to: An Eastern European Barbera Pym

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of short, kitschy, fantastical tales but with a dark side. 

Publication date: 11th July 2018

Whilst browsing through NetGalley, I came across four or five flash fiction novellas by Fairlight Moderns. I’d never heard of the publisher or any of the authors, but the books looked so cute and interesting that I chose one to read without even checking the blurb – something I never ever do. However, I’m really glad that I did because Bottled Goods is a tiny little gem of a book (with great cover art).
Set in 1970’s Romania, Alina grinds out a living as a teacher under a communist regime. Her loveless marriage and difficult mother compound the oppression of living in a dictatorship, so when Alina becomes a Person of Interest to the Secret Services it all becomes too much. After asking her Aunt for help, Alina uses the old ways to invoke the magic of her people to deal with her mother and make good her escape. Part terrifying portrayal of a communist regime, part Grimms fairytale, this pressure cooker of a novella is richly evocative of a history that is seldom talked about in mainstream literature.
I loved the way that Sophie Van Llewyn built the tension in this book. Although a fairly short story, Bottled Goods was so atmospheric I was completely taken in from the first few pages. The writing was brilliant; emotional but precise. Oddly, I found it reminiscent of The Bottle Factory Outing or perhaps something by Patricia Highsmith – there was something about the way that the tension was layered in with the mundanity of everyday life that was very reminiscent of those mid-century female authors. However, this book brings it’s own distinct Eastern European flavour that really worked with the almost dystopian theme – especially if your knowledge of the Eastern Block has been informed by the terrifying kids tv programmes that were shown in the 1970’s and 80’s (and which was parodied so well by The Fast Show).

I really sympathized with Alina and appreciated how the author didn’t shy away from the horrors of investigation by the Secret Service. I also enjoyed learning a little about Romanian history and culture, as it’s not a country that I’m familiar with. The book really brought home what it must have been like to try to live an ordinary life under a communist regime and the reality of not being able to speak freely (even in your own home) or trust anyone (even your family). I loved how informative it was even though some elements were clearly fantastical.

I have to say that I did find some of the chapters slightly disjointed, especially in the beginning and the ending did feel a little rushed. I can absolutely see how some parts were published seperately, as they almost felt like stand alone stories within themselves.

Although short, this is an oddly charming, terrifying, interesting little book. Brilliantly written, I’d love to hear more from Sophie Van Llewyn – and I’m definitely going to check out some more Fairlight Moderns *watches NetGalley review percentage tumbling*.

Rating: Four tripe soups out of five.

Richly evocative, fantastical and brutally authentic; you’ll devour this treasure of a novella in one sitting.

Please note that I read this book for free via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks NetGalley!


12 thoughts on “Review: Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

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