cover image The Music at Long Verney: Short Stories

The Music at Long Verney: Short Stories

Sylvia Townsend Warner. Counterpoint LLC, $24 (220pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-112-3

These 20 uncollected stories by Warner, who died in 1978, first appeared in the New Yorker over the course of five decades. There is a timeless quality about the collection as a whole; Warner's drollery and wit has lost nothing in the passage of time. At the center are five stories involving the urbane Mr. Edom, proprietor of Abbey Antique Galleries. In the first, ""A Flying Start,"" he is unexpectedly elated when a young woman asserts herself by stealing a locket that her husband (a good customer) has refused to buy for her. ""English Mosaic"" tells how Mr. Edom gets rid of an unbearable assistant by skillfully finding her a romantic interest. In ""The Listening Woman,"" Mr. Edom's assistant, Mr. Collins, shows he has learned well from his employer; he quotes an outrageously high price on an object to get rid of a potential buyer and to allow it to be purchased by an old woman who has a sentimental attachment to it. Other outstanding stories include ""The Inside-Out,"" where a character introduced at the very end, usually an unfortunate plot device, brings everything together and allows the reader to understand what has gone before. Throughout these stories, there are remarkable descriptions of houses, interiors, gardens and natural phenomena, and the use of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell is extraordinary. ""The trees were heavy with summer, pigeons cooed all day, and a continuous mild buzz of insects filled the woods with a sound of piety."" The time is ripe for a reappreciation of Warner, whose much beloved morality fable Lolly Willowes was reissued in 1999 as part of the New York Review of Books Classics Series. (Jan.)