The Madonna of the Pool by Helen Stancey – Book Review

madonna of the pool helen stancey book review

By Sarah Morgan

What qualities should a short story hold? Well, it can never outstay its welcome – it should be small but perfectly formed, with intriguing characters and an engaging plot that can be absorbed in minutes or hours rather than days and weeks.

Thankfully, Helen Stancey proves she has the ability to craft such tales in her latest collection.

Her previous offerings, the novels Words and Common Ground, have gone down a treat with reviewers, and there’s no reason why The Madonna of the Pool won’t either – it’s a short but sweet publication that should prove to be popular summer reading.

Don’t expect anything mind-boggling or unusual here. While many authors these days attempt to dazzle readers with their outstanding vocabulary and use of simile and metaphor, not to mention their own superior wit and intelligence, Stancey writes as if she is one of us – an ordinary person, an observer of life who is well briefed in the populace’s little foibles.

madonna of the pool helen stancey book review coverEach tale is beautifully crafted and offers an insight into the otherwise private world of its central character; they are vignettes or, in some cases, confessions. But perhaps her sharp observations should come as no surprise – Yorkshire-born Stancey originally read English at university but later became a psychologist, so if anybody has an insight into people and personalities, it should be her.


Among her stories is that of a mother whose son is being bullied at school – until she finds an unusual way to make him stand out from the crowd.

Others focus on a family holiday that doesn’t work out quite as the patriarch expected, and a lonely man who appears to be as much a stray as the dog he befriends.

Although The Madonna of the Pool could never be described as ground-breaking or innovative, it is one of the most charming collections this reviewer has picked up all year. My tastes tend more towards the macabre, but even I was won over by the heartfelt and heartwarming recollections it contains.

What will Stancey bring us next? I have no idea, but after reading her skilful prose, I’ve no doubt it will be well worth waiting for.

The book is also one of the first tomes from new publishing house Fairlight Books, and if this is any indication of the quality of their offerings, it has a very bright future indeed.

‘The Madonna of the Pool’ by Helen Stancey is published by Fairlight Books, £8.99


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