Sweet Home by Carys Bray, abridged by John Peacock

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Sweet Home by Carys Bray, abridged by John Peacock.  Dir. David Blount.  Perf. Emma Fielding.  BBC Radio 4 Extra, 20-24 Jan. 2015.  BBCiPlayer to 23 Feb. 2015.


The principal thematic preoccupation of this collection of five short stories could be summed up in the final tale, “Under Covers,” in which the elderly Carol Evans’s husband Boris declares his enduring love for her by reciting poetry.  The act of recitation seems outwardly absurd, but the sentiments have a powerful affect, reminding us of the power of literature to transport us into imaginative worlds that are completely different from the workaday lives we pursue.


This facility can sometimes be destructive as well as beneficial.  In “Sweet Home” we learn about an old German woman who builds a house entirely of sweetmeats.  Normally we might expect such a move to be greeted with delight (everyone loves sweets, don’t they?) but it represents a threat to the stability of her community, as it departs from the expected social and architectural norms.  Fantasies can be effective, but to many they should be private rather than public.


Sometimes such fantasies might represent a yearning for something impossible: “Scaling Never” tells of a youngster trying to resurrect a dead bird by praying for a miracle.  After all, his father is a man of the church, so why shouldn’t that be possible?  Unfortunately painful reality keeps intruding, especially when his mother tries to vacuum his bedroom, where the bird’s remains have been concealed.


Television purports to tell us “the truth” about what’s happening in the world, but sometimes it’s difficult to separate truth from fantasy.  Watching the minute-by-minute rescue of a group of Chilean miners on a 24-hour news channel, Jacob dreams that his addict sun might be similarly saved from a gruesome fate.  Yet in the story “Scaling Never,” we never know whether this will happen or not; perhaps uncomfortable realities might get in the way.


Bray explores similar issues in “Everything a Parent Needs to Know,” where single mum Helen reads a lot of literature about how to bring up her young daughter, but cannot seem to meet the expectations posed by the books.  Ideal mothers should observe this, that or the other behavioral rituals; yet when Helen tries to follow suit, she feels that her shortcomings will be exposed, especially when other mothers make the kind of patronizing comments (disguised as kindness) on her treatment of her daughter.  In the end she understands the importance of relying on instinct rather than instruction; she might make mistakes, but at least she remains convinced that she is doing things for the best.  Such a course of action might have helped to alleviate Jacob’s mental suffering in “Scaling Never.”


Read with considerable vocal élan by Emma Fielding, these five stories dealt with everyday subjects in a sympathetic way, revealing Bray’s ability to understand human nature.  The accompanying music – the Berceuse from Fauré’s Dolly Suite – had a particular resonance for listeners old enough to remember Listen with Mother, the daily radio program for under-fives that ran from 1950 until 1982.  The tune conjures up a world of stability, of enduring relationships – something that the protagonists of all five stories were perpetually looking for.