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
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.