A Review of Berit Ellingsen’s
Beneath the Liquid Skin
by Christopher Allen
Berit Ellingsen’s Beneath the Liquid Skin is a celebration of fantasy, of the tale and of the telling of tales. At times whimsical—as if written with the claw of a crab?—at other times elegantly blurring the lines between prose and poetry, Ellingsen’s collection of short fiction is full of exciting surprises. Each story is a new planet, finely wrought in unexpected ways.
There are richly textured still moments (“Still Life of Hypnos”), moments charged with energy that race past (“Down the River”) and those that take the reader to fresh narrative landscapes. Variety abounds. Yet for all this welcome unexpectedness, there are also cadences that bind these stories into a well-balanced collection. One of these is a variation on the tale of two men: a chef and his lover, an astronomer and a king, then a farmer and a king. And then there is man whose lover/friend becomes a shark. These stories are on one level dialogues between men; on another level they are dialogues between country life and the big city (another motif woven into this collection). Yet another story is a conversation between a man and his boss about food becoming poison.
Food: so meticulously detailed and well-researched in these stories. It would not surprise me to discover that Ellingsen is a trained chef herself; and, equally, it would not surprise me to discover that Ellingsen couldn’t boil an egg. It doesn’t really matter in the end. As an author, Ellingsen is a skilled actor slipping into the most various of roles like a chef creating any dish the imagination can conjure. When an author can use food so deftly to create tone and setting, the reader is a fortunate diner. I’d love to have dinner with Ellingsen—perhaps just not “mushrooms . . . mixed with grilled squid and spring onions, toasted red chili, thick dark soy sauce, and a dash of bitter tamarind”—at least not the white, finger-like mushrooms in “The Love Decay Has for the Living”.
Another cadence in the collection is Ellingsen’s plastic use of color, as if Beneath the Liquid Skin itself is a complex painting with its own palette. Although I would say the dominant color is yellow with its contrast being the darkness of the mountains and the fjords, Ellingsen’s palette is a “many-hued splendor” connecting her worlds. Perhaps this is not so obvious or intentional as I observe it, but color certainly imbues consistency of tone to this collection. (I hadn’t seen the cover of the book before I wrote this review. It was a bit chilling to see the colors I’d mentioned–and reassuring. I wasn’t crazy after all.)
Beneath the Liquid Skin spans centuries, from the tales of kings and the sycophants of kings to modern relationships between men and women, but also between men and men. Ellingsen moves gracefully from one era to another as well as from one narrative approach to another. Full of surprise yet as satisfying and balanced as a well-planned meal: Beneath the Liquid Skin.
Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer who lives in Norway and writes in English. Her collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin, is available from firthFORTH Books HERE. A short version of the collection was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Rose Metal Press chapbook competition.
Ellingsen’s stories have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, including Unstuck, Bluestem, Smokelong Quarterly, decomP magazinE . . . and Metazen, which published Ellingsen’s story “The Glory of Glormorsel” in October 2011.
Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O’Type and an editor at Metazen.
© 2012, Metazen.