Culture, Review

BOOK REVIEW: Sweets & Toxins

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By Caleb Nelson


Sweets & Toxins by English writer Christopher Woodall is a collection of short stories centred around the theme of relationships, and in particular, how they can change and develop over time.

In ‘Loved to Pieces’, the protagonist goes through the usual stages of a breakup, trying to regain a sense of normalcy. Woodall relays her pain in graphic detail. She has been so wronged that it feels like being ‘raped in reverse’: after letting her ex-lover into her life, she was then left on her own when he ‘withdrew abruptly’. She realises that she has been changed by her relationship in so many ways, even her music tastes, that it feels as if her ex has become a part of her forever, and Woodall conveys this familiar brand of suffering in exquisite style.

‘American Shades’ tells the story of two young lovers studying in Bordeaux who meet a clochard, Jean-Luc. The couple keep in contact with Jean-Luc, visiting him every time they are in the area, as the story follows their lives. This is really the story of Jean-Luc, the reader begins to suspect, prompting us to consider whether our lives are ever really our own.

In ‘No Longer Lonely’, a woman who has lost friendships realises that people do not care for her as much as she thought. However, when one relationship that was thought to be lost forever returns, she realises that this person seems to be the only one to ever truly care about her. The two discover that they have many common interests and so make up for lost time through these new-found similarities, and thanks solely to this singular relationship, she is ‘no longer lonely’. After the considerably more depressing tones of stories such as ‘Loved to Pieces’, this story offers a much-needed reminder of just how much we can mean to one another.

This is a wonderful, human collection. The author’s astute descriptions of relationships and the dramatic, often violent ways in which they can transform us are matched by the very visual, graphic imagery, making this collection an exceptional example of writing about love lost and found.

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