Vincenzo's Garden, by John Clanchy

A good short story is much more than just a story that is short in length, because such a story must impart something that goes far beyond the small number of words and pages it is allocated. It must leave the reader contemplating not just the events of those pages, or even the fates of the characters, but something more reaching – how the story relates to life beyond that plot.

John Clanchy is recognised as a master story-teller and the seven stories offered in this collection all leave the reader with that impact. They are left pondering the fate of the characters and the moral dilemmas they face, or nodding in agreement that Clanchy has portrayed life exactly as it is.

In Radinsky’s Will a woman contemplates the morality of accepting a handsome inheritance from a man she never met and whose funeral she attended by accident. When she turns it down, she is left contemplating a completely different moral dilemma. The reader, too is left making such a contemplation. What would they do in a similar situation. Is there a right answer to such a dilemma?

In Leaper a man faces another dilemma. Involved in an accident, he is unable to stop or provide answer afterwards for fear that an unrelated secret will be revealed. Again, the reader is left contemplating how a twist of fate can leave someone terribly exposed.

Whilst each of the stories is very different in subject matter and in theme, references to Vincent Van Gogh run through the collection, linking them with the title Vincenzo’s Garden. One of the stories deals directly with van Gogh, telling the story of his final days and his funeral through the eyes of Adeline Ravoux, the girl in the blue dress who appeared in many of Van Gogh’s works. In another story, the central charaacer visits the convent at Saint Remy where Van Gogh once lived. Other references are less direct, including the naming of the gardener Vincenzo in the title story. The author seems to be inviting the reader, through these links, to make other, more subtle connections.

This is a collection to be savoured. Readers will want to enjoy each story separately and to read and reread at leisure.


Vincenzo’s Garden, by John Clanchy
Univeristy of Queensland Press, 2005