Women shed their outer skin to reveal their true insect self, a man with eight legs is looking for a suitable companion, two girls become obsessed with a magical sewing machine, and a wooden mermaid gives birth to a sconce after being beset by an octopus. These are just a few of the short stories in the book, and they all are cut from the same cloth: a scratchy, worn-out fabric depicting a warped reality.
The world in which The Doll’s Alphabet takes place is sometimes charmingly off kilter and magical, but mostly unappealingly grotesque and grimy, and inhabitated by people who are at the mercy of their basest desires. Circumstances and surroundings feel desolate and outmoded, like an industrial nightmare in which women have to fight for their place in the world, bodies are changeable and prone to failure, inanimate objects have their own secret life, and logic does not necessarily apply. I would not call them horror stories exactly, but most of them are so deeply unsettling that they might just be ones. The comparison that easily comes to mind is Kafka whose works are of a similar surrealistic nature, and especially the first story about women’s true self immediately reminded me of The Metamorphosis.
As with most collections of short stories, the quality of the individual stories varies, but I was impressed by the strong connection between the different tales. There are a few underlying themes that run through all the stories, and together, they form a more comprehensive picture of the author’s intentions and ideas. The desolation and darkness of the world and its overall nightmarish nature, however, were a little too much for me, despite the absurdist humour that Grudova manages to weave into the stories. I admire her imagination, and the originality of the stories, but I did not quite enjoy reading some of them, and a few I found downright repulsive. Nonetheless, this is objectively a pretty good collection, and definitely recommended for fans of the surreal.