I love jumping to a short story every now and then, I find it refreshes my mind and stops me getting in a reading rut. My latest pick was Sylvia Path’s short story that Faber Stories included in their collection last year.
In this extraordinary story Mary steps on a train to complete a journey to where, we’re not sure, but her father states “the trip north won’t be an ordeal” and her mother comforts her saying “everyone has to leave home sometime”, so my mind wonders is she leaving for university, school or a job? Her parents are keen for her to go, so surely it’s nothing sinister?!
And yet as I read on, the journey becomes darker and appears to have a more symbolic meaning. Rather than stopping at train stations with names familiar to a particular country, they are named after kingdoms. Some of the passengers are enjoying their trip, others are restless and when the train stops they don’t want to get off and are escorted off the train.
I loved how this story made me think of all the possible meanings behind this journey. Is it a nightmare? Is it a journey to the underworld?
Many have interpreted the story as a young girl struggling to control her thoughts and the further she travels in her journey/”her life”, the darker they become. It seems like a logical interpretation given Plath’s own battle with depression and is reinforced in the story when Mary chooses to fight back and take control of where she will end up. But I keep recalling the opening paragraphs where her parents are pushing her to take the journey, why would they want her to take a journey that could leave her dead? Surely the want to protect her from the darkness? Or is Mary only imagining them pressuring her to take the journey because she feels so isolated from everyone?
Mary sits next to a woman who claims she’s done this journey many times and is keen to help Mary, what is Plath symbolising with this mysteriously kind woman, is she Mary’s guardian angel?
At 40 pages long, it’s remarkable the detail that Plath weaves into this dream-like journey. It locked in my focus with its mystical and dark nature, I was worried for Mary as her hopelessness and desperation intensified the more I read on.
Whilst this story is eerie and left me with heaps of questions when I finished it, I can’t help but look at it on my shelf with fondness. Whether it’s due to Plath’s incredible skill at creating such a complex and atmospheric short story or because it ignited my mind to ponder on its meaning for weeks after… I’m not sure, but I can whole heartedly vouch that this short story is memorable even if it does ruffle your feathers.
Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is available in paperback and eBook versions from Faber & Faber.
Until next time, stay safe, Chloé x
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