A few thoughts on Joan Aiken’s A Fit of Shivers
It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that Joan Aiken isn’t better known these days. And to make it worse, her most well-known works aren’t even the ones I like the best - typically, she’d be known as the writer of Jane Austen inspired works, or at most for her alt-England series starting with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
My favourites are her short stories. Both the fairy tales and her horror stories, written for kids of all ages, have a sharp touch to them that someone like Enid Blyton cannot even come close to. In her fairy tales, for example, it is no biggie for kids to be orphans, or poor, or starving, or even ending up dead. In her horror stories, there is absolutely no guarantee that there’s a happy end in store.
A Fit of Shivers, as is evident from the name, is horror stories. Once again, you go in with no guarantees of safety, and the stories take you all sorts of places. One of my favourites here is about a boy who can teleport through mirrors. Not only does this not help him, but he winds up homeless, starving, and eventually drowned. Another one is about a girl whose mother is in a coma, sent to live in an aunt’s house that’s haunted. The collection features ten-odd stories, each a gem in itself.
There’s a reason I compared Aiken to Enid Blyton - it’s because of the droll British style of writing that desi readers will find very familiar. People have accents from various parts of Britain (which, me being me, can’t really place), and they live in the typical small villages and towns with greengrocer shops and the village constable. That's where the similarity ends.
Even her fantasy stories, in collections such as A Necklace of Raindrops or A Harp of Fishbones, have that same sharp edge and unforgettable scenes, so they come just as highly recommended. I've been collecting these short books over the years, Amazon of course being a huge help in recent years.
When I’ve gotten tired of heavy-duty literature or long-winded passages, it’s Joan Aiken’s short stories I come back to. Try them. Trust me.