[The Doll’s House] has already garnered comparisons to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Leonora Carrington, Ben Marcus, and Franz Kafka. To this list let me add another name: George Orwell. Not the dystopian Orwell of 1984 or the allegorical Orwell of Animal Farm but the down-and-out, grubby-oilcloth Orwell of The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Grudova does mermaids and magic, but she also does moldy, dingy, scratch-and-sniff interiors that reek of cabbage and old shoes … Grudova’s descriptions are crooked and revelatory.
The comic grotesqueries that emerge from this collection owe a bit to Dickens, Kafka and Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, but their total effect is delightfully unclassifiable. The stories are unconnected but mostly of a piece … Ms. Grudova strikes a tone that is amusingly earnest, as though she intended to make these stories gallant and romantic but then screwed up the recipe. Everything is a little off, broken or soiled or deformed … The Doll’s Alphabet is clearly a revisionist undertaking. It unsettles assumptions about motherhood and marriage. But it also separates itself from its feminist predecessors. The world it inhabits—droll, inexplicable and even beautiful in its slovenly fashion—is unlike any other I’ve encountered.
Camilla Grudova’s weird, fantastical characters and settings feel like they could pop up in your own life — lurking in the alley and hiding behind the light poles and trash cans as keys are kept in the palm of a hand. Grudova’s achievement in The DolI’s Alphabet is not only that she makes the reader feel uneasy, but that each time, it blurs back to an everyday problem or social issue … The pattern is the slow recollection that one knows this story or has heard this story before, but it is the details or context that has shifted. In particular her descriptions strike a chord that is both grotesque and compelling … In many ways it defies description — the images it conjures have one foot in our world and one in the other.
I did at first fear the worst excesses of magic realism, which can be like playing with a child who changes the rules every few seconds, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a consistency to her imagination … Dolls, sewing machines, pregnancy, incontinence and a kind of archaeological culture pop up from time to time: by that I mean threadbare survivors of an older time … That I cannot say what all these stories are about is a testament to their worth. They have been haunting me for days now. They have their own, highly distinct flavour, and the inevitability of uncomfortable dreams.
Grudova borrows whirling gears from steampunk fantasy and clicking carapaces from horror, but these slender stories lack the robust plot conventions of the more popular genres they draw from, belonging instead in the genre of literary fiction. The stories’ principal emotion is melancholy disgust, often tinged with longing and dread … The effect of the absurd, unnatural, cruel, and unfair social rules in these stories is to cast light on how absurd, unnatural, cruel, and unfair the rules of contemporary society can be.
Women become wolves, men are born spiders, Gothic ornaments conquer an apartment building, and corpses complain in Grudova’s smart, haunting debut collection. Set in worlds that overlap with ours—characters listen to Tchaikovsky, watch Pinocchio, and travel to Europe—these stories nevertheless render familiar tropes deeply strange … A canny collage artist with an eye for the comically macabre, Grudova scavenges her images from Victorian and Edwardian aesthetics. Against this background, her ironies and insights about the inequalities in relationships between men and women feel startlingly current.