A short story tattooed on my mind

Tess and Tattoos

Helene Leuschel






This short story made me miss the launch of the new series of Strictly Come Dancing!

This compelling literary, scientific and philosophical story is no ordinary, predictable tale. From the outset, one is searching for the manipulator.  The clever use of perspective and narrative structure guides the reader into the narrative and instructs.  It is an intelligent study of the human condition and the psyche: though this may seem challenging – it isn’t.  Engaging with the central character becomes an obsession for the reader.

Like Sandra, the reader connects with the ‘fragile’ Tess who suffers ‘deep unease into the roots of her hair’. Stage, by stage Tess’s life is deconstructed.  The comparison between Sandra’s life and Tess’s life is clever. On the surface, the elderly Tess is as vulnerable as Sandra’s children; but unlike the children, Tess has lived a life.  Sandra asks a pertinent question:

‘Why was it that young children and, for that matter senile adults, are put into the category of innocence and naivety?’

Tess is lonely but is not innocent or naïve.  She knows how to get attention from Sandra in the care home.  Tess is ‘waiting for death’ but has learnt so much about people.  She knows about the destructive power of jealousy.

‘…you’ll never be happy ..’ if you feel ‘jealous’. The story examines the flaws in human nature and suggests that everyone would be happier if they felt ‘genuinely pleased for those that did better than ourselves.’ Jealousy is presented as a catalyst for a manipulative mind.  Tess has studied the character flaws that contribute to the psyche of a manipulator.

The story reaches out to the reader offering a positive philosophy for life.  Victims of emotionally and physically abusive relationships can gain courage from this story to take action, rather than applying the ‘basic tricks’ to survive. Perhaps, this groundbreaking story should be prescribed in counselling sessions.

This powerful short story will be forever tattooed on my mind.  While reading, I felt like the character who is ‘constantly standing on a tightrope…balancing…over troubled waters’. This short story delivered some surprises, and even cleverly manipulated the reader.  I urge readers to explore this narrative and to discover the symbolism of the tattoo.


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Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Will ‘My Sweet Friend’ win the game of cat and mouse?

My Sweet Friend

Helene Leuschel






On one level, ‘My Sweet Friend’ is an insight into the way power struggles and politics operate in business and in personal relationships.  Beneath this narrative is a rather brilliant and poignant analysis of the human mind and mental illness.

Alexa and Rosie are presented via a first person narrative, and this insight plays tricks with the reader’s mind – one questions whose ‘game’ is dominant. The contrasting characters are presented using animal imagery of the cat and the mouse.  Careful choice of verbs indicates who is ‘ambushing’ the friendship.

Alexa, with her ‘immaculate looks’ appears very measured. Her controlled behaviour’ is teased out in every action and word.  Once self-control is lost, and the clouds are overhead, then it is a frightening place for Alexa.  Alexa’s state mind ends up in a place where the ‘waves had turned against each other, foam crowning as they crashed to the shore.’ Fear for the character evokes empathy.

Before reaching the crisis point, Alexa wears a mask of control like a cat waiting to pounce.  Rosie, is forced to confront her vulnerability.  She learns how ‘empathetic skills’ are viewed as weakness by some, if not ‘managed’.  Rosie’s language flows, driven by emotions, and she explains:

‘My cheeks were wet with tears by the time I reached home, feeling abandoned and used and stupid for letting myself be dragged…’

The long sentence and outpouring of emotions amplify the sense of vulnerability.  But the ‘sweet and sour’ characters begin to shift, as the dichotomy is not fixed. If one deconstructs the manipulator’s ‘game’ it is possible to fight back.  However, Alexa becomes isolated, vulnerable and needs support. I was intrigued with the way that this story manipulated my emotions.

My Sweet Friend’ is poetic exploration of vulnerability.  The novella is a shrewd demonstration that:

‘Behind the façade we are all human, fragile and sensitive to judgement.’

Leuschel cracks open the fragility of the human psyche in an artful manner, and clues about the characters’ vulnerabilities are woven into the text. This brutal, haunting story of the human psyche arms the reader with some survival tactics. Despite an uneasy feeling, one finds empathy for the manipulator. Perhaps, this novella will lead to a novel examining what shaped the manipulator’s behaviour, and what happens next.


To find out more about Helene please see my interview with her.


Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.