Published in 2011 by Small Beer Press (publishers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet), containing 19 stories spanning much of Joan Aiken’s career. I borrowed a copy from the library. (Digression: My local library is glorious and the employees are amazing and I encourage you to form a bond with a library if you haven’t already.)
3 out of 5 stars.
I’m late to the Joan Aiken party. First impression: Aiken is a very strong writer on a technical level. She was known primarily for supernatural and children’s fiction but I would characterize The Monkey’s Wedding as magical realism and earth-bound fantasy more than the horror-tinged supernatural I had expected. (This misunderstanding is very much my fault, not hers.)
These stories are very short (ranging from 4 to 16 pages), making The Money’s Wedding a breeze to read. Ultimately, though, very little made an impression and I had trouble connecting with the stories.
I often felt like I was entering an established story; that I was supposed to know these locations and characters. Imagine flipping to the middle of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row and trying to catch up without knowledge of the first half. I would get there eventually if Aiken spent enough time in the story for me to get my footing. But she jumps in and out, remaining a very detached narrator (which only increased my feeling of distance).
Another problem – the major one – is summed up by Aiken in her introduction:
“Most of my short stories have some connection with a dream.”
Dreams are highly personal; things that make emotional sense or hold deep significance to the dreamer are often impossible to explain. The associations don’t translate on their own – other elements need to be incorporated to make a satisfying narrative to the reader and I think the weakness in this collection is keeping too many dream elements and not adding narrative substance.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some gems in here but the gems felt out of step from the rest.
A Mermaid Too Many
She strolled through a spray of the scent he’d found in Valparaiso.
A major city, seaport, and educational center in the county of Valpariso, Chile. Greater Valparaiso is the second largest metropolitan area in the country.
Mrs. Agnew was in the saloon, small and grey, downy as owl, beak and claws ready to strike.
At the first ring of the bell the older Miss Ruddock appeared behind the glass door like Cleopatra’s Needle.
A popular name for each of the three Ancient Egyptian obelisks re-erected in London, Paris, and New York City during the nineteenth century. The nickname is a misnomer, as they have no connection with the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and were already over a thousand years old in her lifetime.
Reading in Bed
 Short story openings are an art; this one is exceptional:
Francis Nastrowski was a young Polish officer. He had once been rich, but was so no longer. Some of the habits of his bygone grandeur still clung to him, however. He was apt to say “Put on my boots” or “Fetch my horse” to whoever was there, even the major, and he was incurably vain, and fond of good wine and reading in bed. Harmless pursuits, one might say, but they nearly led to his downfall.
It was one of those shops which are found in all old towns and seaside resorts, full of quaint pottery, raffia mats, and wooden calendars with pokerwork dogs on them.
Pyrography or pyrogravure is the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker. It is also known as pokerwork or wood burning.
 Because of the fable-like nature of Aiken’s style, she employs dramatic dialogue attributions. In one half-page – in a row – we get the following:
Paul said calmly (…)
She asked timidly (…)
Paul said contemptuously (…)
Miss Pellett said rather faintly (…)
Paul answered coldly.
It comes down to preferences in style and taste but I find excessive adverbs distracting. I gave Joseph Heller a pass on this (see Catch-22, note ) because he had established a world where I accepted the exaggerations. I never lose myself in Aiken’s world enough to not notice this tic, especially in this story.
“Women,” he said. “There’s no pleasing them. Either they won’t believe anything, or else they lose their heads and begin looking out for fandangles like angels on the roof.”
noun – (informal) – 1. Elaborate ornament.
Girl in a Whirl
There were two men in the town, though, who took an interest in Daisy. One of them was the doctor. More of him later. The other was Con O’Leary.
Housewives loved him for the bits of Traviata that would come caroling out from under the sink as he scrubbed, or Trovatore from the upper storey.
La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi which premiered in 1853. It is based on La Dame aux Camelias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils (see The Magus, note ).
Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play El Trovador by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez. It premiered in 1853.
[He] sang A flat instead of A natural in the middle of Adelaide.
An opera by Antonio Sartorio to an Italian libretto by Pietro Dolfin. It premiered in 1672.
Made up as Acis, or Don Pasquale, he could watch enthralled as she came onto the stage in her white silk costume.
Acis and Galatea is a musical work by George Frideric Handel which premiered in 1718. Acis is a shepherd who the semi-divine nymph Galatea falls in love with.
Don Pasquale is a comic opera by Gaetano Donizetti which premiered in 1843. Pasquale is an older man who wishes to marry to produce an heir.
He put on his best suit that was purple as a Pershore plum.
Pershore is a market town in Worcestershire, England. Every August, the town holds a plum festival to celebrate the local tradition of growing plums including the local variety Pershore Purple.
“I wonder if I might (…) have left a bucket here last Tuesday week when I washed the distemper?”
noun – a kind of paint using glue or size instead of an oil base, for use on walls or for scene-painting.
a method of mural and poster painting using this.
 Very nice lyrical dialogue:
“She might agree,” Michael pointed out. “Twould be no unaccustomed thing for her, waltzing over the tightrope the way she do when the Dome of Death’s dismantled for the de-rusting.”
All at once it trembled, as the web does when the spiderwife’s home, and a moment later the little shining toy ran out and down, more like a raindrop on a telegraph wire than a live creature balancing over death and vacancy.
The cheer that went up from the watchers might have been heard from Dublin to Doon Point.
A point in County Donegal, Ireland (on the northwest coast of Ireland).
And far from the roystering crowd he took her.
Obsolete form of roister:
verb – enjoy oneself or celebrate in a noisy or boisterous way.
“Half a dozen boluses and a pint of linseed oil, Mr. O’Shaughnessy, if you please.”
noun – a small rounded mass of a substance, especially of chewed food at the moment of swallowing.
a type of large pill used in veterinary medicine.
a single dose of a drug or other medicinal preparation given all at once.
“All about did her mother shut her in a dark cupboard when she was a gossoon and suchlike.”
noun – (Irish) – a lad.
From context it sounds like this can also mean lass(?) Or is it saying that the mother would shut her in the cupboard when she was acting up like a boy?
“Isn’t it a wonderful thing,” he remarked to himself. “Seized up by the scruff, like she was the young Lochinvar coming out of the west to save him.”
A character in Walter Scott’s poem, Marmion, dramatized in the 1924 film Young Lochinvar. Marmion is about the Battle of Flodden (1513) and was published in 1808. In the film Lochinvar insists on marrying Ellen, the woman he loves, though she is betrothed to another.
 Best story in the collection. In the opening paragraphs we get:
“You’ll tire yourself out!” somebody said to Sarah as she plunged from deck-tennis to swimming in the ship’s pool, from swimming to dancing, from dancing to Ping-Pong. “As if I could,” she said to Tom. “I’ve done so little all my life, I have twenty-one years of accumulated energy to work off.”
But just the same, that was what she had done. She had died, vanished, gone out, as completely as a forgotten day, or a drift of the scent of musk. Gone, lost to the world.
“Quick, let’s go out and see something – a pyramid or a cataract or a sphinx.”
noun – a large waterfall.
“I want to see Rome and Normandy and Illyria and London.”
In classical antiquity, Illyria was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by the Illyrians.
 “Hair” is creepy and suggestive without giving its secrets away. It’s an example of dream elements really working; short, simple, and more unsettling than Ramsey Campbell at his best (and in a fraction of the time). Horror fans: seek this one out.
“My father used to paint [horses] – Sir Edwin Kellaway, you know, R.A.”
Membership of the Royal Academy (in London) is composed of up to 80 practicing artists, each elected by ballot of the General Assembly of the Royal Academy, and known individually as Royal Academicians (RA, or more traditionally as R.A.).
In the meantime he embarked on an even mistier picture of Jimmy in an auburn wig with an alice-band of marguerites.
An Alice band (the technical term for a hair band) is either a flexible horse-shoe shaped garment or a loop of elastic material which is designed to fit over the head and hold long hair away from the face, but let it hang freely at the back. The Alice band is said to have originated in the period around 1865, following the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice novels.
Luckily it turned out that Phil was an enthusiastic admirer of Gauguin and Matisse.
Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist. Underappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and synthetist style.
Spur of the Moment
It is not easy to achieve complete control of a sextant and a four-foot spirit-level while leading a large and lively Alsatian puppy.
noun – an instrument with a graduated arc of 60 degrees and a sighting mechanism, used for measuring the angular distances between objects and especially for taking altitudes in navigation.
noun – another term for level (or bubble level), an instrument used to indicate whether a surface is horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb).
She paused at the wine counter and bought a miniature bottle of Drambuie.
A sweet, golden colored 40% liqueur made from scotch, whisky, honey, herbs and spices. The name derives from the Scottish Gaelic phrase an dram buidheach, “the drink that satisfies.”
The bus was toiling up a steep and tree-girt incline.
verb – (literary) – surround, encircle.
“Why do you call him Raoul?” (…)
“After the Vicomte de Bragelonne (…) he was the son of Athos, you remember. He was jilted by Louise de la Valliere.”
The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first serialized between 1847 – 1850. The character of Raoul is the son of Athos, one of the titular Three Musketeers. Louise de La Valliere is Raoul’s childhood sweetheart and maid of honor to the Princess. Eventually, Louise leaves Raoul for the King.
“If I get psittacosis I shall sue you,” Hugh said angrily.
Also known as parrot fever and ornithosis; a zoonotic infectious disease caused by a bacterium contracted from infected parrots.
The Paper Queen
Let Mayor Snawl revive, if he would (…) the Gorsedd of local poets on a hilltop recently rechristened Arthur’s Throne.
A community or coming together of modern-day bards. The word is of Welsh origin, meaning “throne.”
Christmas Eve is a grand time to come out of prison if you have a loving family warming your stockings and making your mince pies.
The lending library was filled with “The Holly and the Ivy.”
A traditional British folk Christmas carol. The words were published in Birmingham in the early nineteenth century.
She met Mark’s tortured eyes and for a heartbeat-space longer than the whole of the nineteenth century their gaze clung and grappled.
Faint and sad the noise of “Once in Royal David’s City” came floating up from a strolling band.
A Christmas carol originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander, first published in 1848. Alexander is also remembered for her hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.
In this house the smell of dry rot had been replaced by that of turps, sawdust, and emulsion paint.
noun – (informal) – turpentine.
Mr. Snawl turned and saw Mark.
“Oh, you’re there,” he said affably. “Have a nice time in jail?”