The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan

In the title story of this twenty strong collection by Kirsty Logan, the unnamed narrator has a heart destroyed by love and loss.

But the parts of me that I wanted to give to Anna were long gone. There was not enough left that was worth giving. The edges of my heart were jagged now, and I do not want to feel those rough edges climbing my throat. I did not love her enough to cough blood. I kept what was left of me close, tucked under the long soft coils of my intestines where Anna wouldn’t see.

Anna shows her heart – ‘a curl of clockwork’ – and takes the narrator to the rental heart place where she finds the perfect heart for her.

When Anna ran off with my best friend, I took the heart back to the rental place. Nothing choked or shattered or weighed me down. It looked just as sleekshiny as when I had first taken it out of the wrapping. And the rental guy gave me my full deposit back. I deleted Anna’s phone number and went out for dinner.

As the story begins, the narrator has met someone new for the first time in years and is off to rent a new heart to protect her from the perils of love.

All of the stories in the collection are about loss in some way: the girls in ‘Underskirts’ who leave their families to serve My Lady, who is lost herself in a patriarchal society. The Lord says:

A woman’s world is the size of the distance from the bedroom to the kitchen…A woman is an actress, and the only thing keeping her on stage is the width of her smile.

The housekeeper complains about the number of handmaids her mistress takes:

Mouths round and red like quims, and their bodices low as anything…Tip-tapping through the back corridors where she’d no business to be, flipping up skirts and losing her rings inside girls.

And the dinner guest thinks:

That grinning tart put on quite a show for me. I know it was for me, because all the ladies do is for the eyes of gentlemen.

The tales are also filled with lust, often love and sometimes elements of magic realism. Coll with ‘his skinny wee tiger-tale’ distracting Una during their maths exam; the garden where nothing grows; the woman who eats lightbulbs:

It began with the Christmas tree lights. They were candy-bright, mouth-size. She wanted to feel the lightness of them on her tongue, the spark on her tastebuds. Without him life was so dark, and all the holiday debris only made it worse. She promised herself she wouldn’t bite down.

Logan delights in playing with language. In ‘Bibliophagy’:

He knows that his wife knows. She can smell the adverbs on his tongue in the mornings. But he cannot get through another evening in that house without consonants.

And in ‘The Gracekeeper’:

The graces are restless today. They pweet and muss, shuddering their wings so that the feathers stick out at defensive angles. I feel that restlessness too. When the sea is fractious like this – when it chutters and schwaks against the moorings, when it won’t talk but only mumbles – it’s difficult to think.

She plays with structure too; some of the stories are told from several points of view, others backwards. Ideas from fairytales are prominent (as you might expect from the collection’s title): an old woman in the depth of the forest; an empress trapped in a castle; a coin-operated boy; a boy with a tiger tail, but Logan plays with our concept of what these tales should be, subverting gender stereotypes and the ubiquity of heterosexual desire.

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is a superb collection. It’s easy to see why Kirsty Logan has been compared to Angela Carter but she brings her own voice to these stories, one which seems to move easily between characters in different places and tales in different genres. Her novel The Gracekeepers is published May and I can’t wait to see what she conjures up in a different form.