The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan

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Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite

Open Kirsty Logan’s debut collection, and you’ll be met first with the title story, which broadly sets the tone for what is to come. The Rental Heart takes us to a version of reality in which people fit themselves with mechanical hearts each time they fall in love – hearts that fail when that love ends. Logan’s narrator talks us through a string of relationships in abstract, evocative language:

 “A year later, I met Anna. She was dreadlocked, greeneyed, full of verbs. She smelled of rain and revolution. I fell.”

As a fantasy story, ‘The Rental Heart’ works beautifully. The central idea of the mechanical hearts is an effective metaphor for love but is not reducible to a metaphor – it makes intuitive sense, but not literal sense, and that helps give the story its air of strangeness and magic. Add in Logan’s sensual prose, and you have a heady concoction indeed.

The Rental Heart points to three characteristics that, to me, define Logan’s collection as a whole: powerful use of language; the structures of fantasy and fairytale; and a concern with love in its various manifestations. You can see the first of these especially in a story like The Last 3,600 Seconds, a three-page piece set as the world ends, in which a young couple hurry to consummate their desires:

“Now the world is so loud that I can’t hear anything, everything is colours and sound and sky and planes and the burn of alcohol and her body – her body on mine, in mine, skin and bone and sinew merging, and this is it, it’s now. We are.”

There’s an urgency to Logan’s writing here, constantly moving on to the next detail, and the next, and the next. We also see a blurring of the external and internal, as the maelstrom of noise and fire from the imminent catastrophe becomes one with the bodily sensations felt by the narrator. This also illustrates the versatility of Logan’s style: even in a span of so few pages, the prose of The Last 3.600 Seconds has recognisably the same voice, but also a noticeably harsher quality than the sensuality of The Rental Heart; such subtle variations continue throughout the collection – each story played in a different key, as it were.

Logan’s command of the fantastic comes to the fore in Coin-Operated Boys. In late 19th century Paris, Elodie Selkirk takes delivery of the latest must-have accessory: an automaton that she names Luc-Pierre. Elodie’s purchased is occasioned by the unwanted advances of one Claude di Haviland, who just happens to be the co-owner of the company that makes coin-operated boys. So begins the tale of an unusual love triangle, which is told by Logan in a gleefully knowing period style. Coin-Operated Boys starts of seeming to be just amusing and light, but by the end it has turned, and the fantastic automaton takes on a much more haunting aspect.

Feeding is another story with strong imagery, though more surreal than fantastical. Peter and Shelley have moved from Sydney to the Outback; it’s strongly implied that they have lost a child. Shelley spends her days and nights in the garden, desperately trying to make something – anything – grow; Peter becomes ever more exasperated with her obsession. Logan evokes the quiet emptiness of the Outback and turns Shelley’s gardening into an effective metaphor for rebirth with a hallucinatory closing image.

Love in The Rental Heart is lost and won, ending and beginning. In Origami, for example, Rebecca is at her wit’s end from spending so much time away from her partner Sean (who works on an oil rig), so she sets about making a lover out of paper. This obsession fills Rebecca’s mind and home alike; the yearning that she feels has to go somewhere. In Una and Coll are Not Friends, love – or something like it – is just emerging. Una and Coll are like any other young girl and boy, except she has antlers and he a tiger’s tail. Their sort-of-affectionate sparring is a delight to read about, and, rather neatly, Logan makes the children’s tail and antlers both irrelevant and indispensable to the story.

I’ve grouped these stories into categories for the sake of structuring this review, but I hope it’s clear that doing so was somewhat arbitrary; in Logan’s tales, you can’t really separate language, theme and story – which is just the way it should be. I’m delighted to learn that Logan has a novel, The Gracekeepers (which sounds as though it’s based on a story from this collection), out next year. In the meantime, The Rental Heart is an exciting introduction to her work; I recommend you take a look at it.

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David Hebblethwaite blogs at David’s Book World.

Kirsty Logan, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales (Salt Publishing, 2014), 144 pages.

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