Vivid, Strange, Experimental Temptations Thrills With Sex, Violence and Wit

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” said Oscar Wilde - and it appears that Vesna Main agrees.

Main’s new book Temptation: A User’s Guide is her first short story collection published by Salt, one of the UK’s foremost independent publishers, who are committed to the discovery and publication of contemporary British literature and are advocates for writers at all stages of their careers, striving to ensure that diverse voices can be heard.

This collection of twenty short stories is indeed diverse in terms of story length and style, although there is a clear sense of cohesion throughout. Running through the central seam of Main’s collection is the notion of temptation - unsurprisingly - in all its varied forms. Main is a writer who ‘disturbs our self-image as educated, reasonable people’ through ‘forcing us to recognise ourselves’ in the bloody-minded and obsessive characters she creates. Main writes about characters whose passion borders on obsession and who are seeking love and companionship but are doomed to remain alone, with their sense of personal failure as the only company.

Vesna Main was born in Zagreb, Croatia. She studied comparative literature before obtaining a doctorate from the Shakespeare Institute in Birmingham. She has worked as a journalist, lecturer and teacher. Her two novels are A Woman With No Clothes On (Delancey Press, 2008) and The Reader the Writer (Mirador, 2015). The latter is written entirely in dialogue and one of the characters is a young prostitute who is also the protagonist of Safe and Futures, two of the stories included in this collection. Recent short stories have appeared in Persimmon Tree and Winamop.

“People are so different. Except when it comes to sex. Most men are the same there.”

It is clear that Main is not afraid to confront the ugly side of life: in Safe, this manifests as violent justice. This is a bleak tale of abuse and betrayal and the consequences of being pushed to the limit. In Futures, Main picks up the thread of Tanya, the woman pushed to the edge of sanity in Safe. These stories are filled with the horror of misogyny, the violence metered out towards women on a daily basis and, in Futures, the insecurity which can lurk behind the façade of redemption and rehabilitation. Sex and desire abound in many of Main’s stories, from the thrilling hope of recognition to the animal lust that can destroy lives. The wicked pull of these stories lies in the normality of their settings, with everyday characters being jolted from their daily reveries by carnal yearning, covetous thoughts and the often-violent results of these contemplations.  

Loneliness and the absence of love are also key themes throughout this collection. The characters in many of Main’s stories are battered and broken down by life, driven by isolation and fear, like the obsessive book hoarder in The Temptation of St Anthony and the girl loving a dead poet to the point of distraction in First Words of Love. Afraid of the pain of betrayal and the hurt of lost love, these people drift through life seeking ways to fill the void. Melancholy and malaise are often the only companion for the reader in these sadly gripping stories and it is all too easy to recognise the ways in which we could all become lost and afraid, separated from the world around us and left to wallow in the prison of our own creation.

“…in my language, obsession is the sister of passion. I both fear and desire obsessions and passions.”

Some of Main’s stories are also weirdly lovely, like Love and Doubles, a haunting tale of doppelgängers and longing, of the drive to find our ‘other half’. The dreamy loose narrative of Telling Tales takes the reader on an abstract journey with an estranged wife forced to endure the life stories of strangers as she awaits the arrival of a mysterious visitor whilst seeking solitude in the South of France.

This is modern fiction; peculiar, often morbid and with a touch of the obscure. Main never allows the reader to become complacent but instead infuses an air of disquiet throughout her stories, a touch of static electricity to rattle the nerves and awaken the desire for introspection. We could all be a character in Main’s stories, could all fall foul of a single push which is enough to send us soaring over the edge of the ordinary and into the realm of the unknown. Could it be the touch of a stranger, the jolt of a betrayal? The thrilling uncertainty of this unseen force capable of dismantling a life is tangible throughout the stories in Temptation.

Main’s stories are vivid, strange, thrillingly brief and filled with sex, violence and the banal horror of daily life. They are unusual tales filled with often unlikeable characters. Temptation is for you if you like witty, sharp dialogue, experimental modernist fiction and stories which speak to the darkest corner of ourselves.

Temptation is an evocative collection which encourages the reader to look beyond their socially palatable exterior to the dark heart beneath, to delve into the secret needs and desires held there and expose them to the light.

  • Temptation: A user’s guide written by Vesna Main is published by Salt and is available now.

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