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A woman remembers her dead husband playing Love Me Tender (the song made famous by Elvis Presley) on his tenor horn. She is in a daze, feeling the grief of the bereaved widow she is, the betrayal of the deceived wife, and the guilt of having murdered him. The title story of this collection is all the more moving and startling because of its understated style, and what is not said as well as what is.
Two of the most moving stories are about Eustace Webber, a loyal servant to a duke for some years, now retired but feeling the lack of a place he belongs - he has come to Buckleigh allegedly for a holiday, one of several in the same place over the years, but this time, it seems probable he has no home to return to.
The twelve linked short stories in this collection are set in the Devon village of Buckleigh. Many of the characters drink or work in the same pub, the Red Lion. The setting is a popular tourist destination, but the village of these stories is no rural idyll - it is the setting for tales of difference, division, isolation, communication breakdowns, loneliness and even death - the collection has a higher body count than many crime novels.
The drawback of the form is that with many of the most interesting characters in the collection, we are left wanting to know more, about how they got where they are or what happens next. In some cases there are allusions in later stories to fill in the gaps, but in others I was left wondering.
The stories are beautifully written, and this makes the tragedy of the lives of many of the characters all the more moving - too many of the characters are feeling the pain of some sort of rejection, the lack of a place to occupy.
I would not suggest Love Me Tender to anyone looking for escapism or cheerful reading, but I would recommend it highly for the quality of the writing.
This is an amended version of a review which originally appeared at the Bookbag.
This is available in paperback, published by Vintage, at an RRP of £7.99 - Amazon is currently selling it for £5.61.