Scottish Girls About Town
by Isla Dewar, Siān Preece, Leila Aboulela, Carmen Reid, Manda Scott, Shari Low, Aline Templeton, Jenny Colgan, Miller Lau, Lennox Morrison, Carol Anne Davis, Abigail Bosanko, Muriel Gray, Sara Sheridan, Morag Joss, Tania Kindersley, Julia Hamilton, Helen Lamb, and Katie Agnew; contemporary (2003)
Pocket, £6.99, ISBN 0-7434-5036-1

Another year, another charity anthology. This time around, 50p from each book each goes to Bernardo's (save the kiddies!) and Women Onto Work (help the women!). Unlike other chick-lit anthologies that overdose on the formulaics, though, this anthology actually has many varied styles, many of them revolving around coming of age of both children and adult women. In fact, I would hesitate to call this anthology "chick-lit" if we assume that "chick-lit" is everything every British author believes herself to be when it comes to being the new Helen Fielding clone in the market.

Last year it's Irish Girls About Town (released this year by America's Pocket division under their Downtown imprint). This year it's Scottish Girls About Town. Next year it will be Cockney Girls About Town, perhaps?

The really good thing about this anthology is that when the stories are good, they knock my socks off. Isla Dewar kicks off the anthology with the really adorable In The Garden Of Mrs Pink, where the narrator as a young girl innocently befriends the town prostitute (with a heart of gold, naturally) and learns a few heartwarming lessons about life from the encounter. This story is strictly Hallmark territory, but the narrator is really adorable and I shed some tears at the ending (a somewhat happy one, don't worry). Siān Preece's Country Cooking Countdown tells the story of a woman who enters a live cooking contest and braves the lecherous host for an unexpected reason. This one has me laughing out loud. Leila Aboulela's Something Old, Something New is one of the best stories of the bunch: it is a love story between a Scottish man and a Sudanese woman. This story is a delicately written story about culture clash that is never sentimental but heartbreakingly romantic all the same. The hero's closing line and the heroine's response are just perfect - Leila Aboulela has won enough literary prizes to consider herself a "serious literary author", but she should try writing a romance novel one day.

Somewhere in the middle are some rather disturbing anti-daddy stories of violence, the best being Aline Templeton's A Mixed Blessing and its dark humor. Jenny Colgan brings in the funniest story of the bunch, The Fringes, where an absurdly silly heroine attempts to absorb the art scene at the Fringes with disastrous results. This heroine is silly but she means well, which makes her more tolerable than the usual bitchy, whiny, but passive chick-lit heroine type.

There are many more stories here, some humorous, some macabre, some poignant, all readable, although I'd appreciate someone telling me what Miller Lau's slang-heavy novella is all about. Trying to decipher Scottish brogue without a naked Ewan McGregor as visual aid isn't as fun as it used to be.

The eclectic themes and varied styles, all emminently enjoyable, make this anthology a cut above the usual charity cases these publishers and authors put out annually. And it's only £6.99 for a good cause and some really good stories. Not bad, really.

Rating: 88

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