The best connected, interleaved, or overlayered story fiction (also known as a palimpsest)

Allie Cresswell Author Of Crossings: Four Tiered Stories
By Allie Cresswell

The Books I Picked & Why

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

By Alice Munro

Book cover of The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

Why this book?

The book is like a series of snapshots, taken over forty years, as times and the protagonists change (or don’t change). Their relationship readjusts itself but their bond – though sometimes tenuous – never becomes detached. Each story is complete in itself but they build into a collage that reads better as a whole than it did in its parts.

Flo is a practical, unimaginative woman, left to bring up Rose, her stepdaughter. Rose is an awkward child, unpromising at first, but through the course of the stories manages to escape and build her own life.

Munro’s language is sublime, like a banquet of delicious things you have to sip and savour; she sees beauty and profound truth in everyday things.

This was the first connected-story novel I read, and I loved the idea that a story can be told from many different points of view: of people, of time, of perspective.


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Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout

Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Why this book?

This is a collection of connected stories that meanders through the life and times of a community in small-town America. The writer takes her scalpel and peels back the layers of ordinary lives to find the drama and tragedy, the sacrifice and courage within. This book is an enormous canvas of life made up of tiny fragments.

The different stories span out like spokes in a wheel, and at its hub is Olive, teacher of mathematics, wife to the local pharmacist, lover of donuts. She is feared by her students and given a wide birth by people in the town because she is uncompromising. Beneath her prickly veneer she is clever at reading people, sympathetic and kind. Olive has no self-knowledge. People's reaction to her instinctive and firmly-held opinions confuses her. I loved this vulnerability.

Olive slides in and out of the other characters' stories, but she is such a complex, substantial catalyst that she impacts every scene.


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Notwithstanding

By Louis De Bernieres

Book cover of Notwithstanding

Why this book?

This book is a collection of the author’s memoirs, set in a fictional village in England’s leafy countryside. Each story stands alone and yet they build a picture of a time and place that is now lost.

There is humour and tragedy in these stories. A disastrous dinner party ends up with the guests having to go to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped. An elderly lady who cares more for her animals than she does for herself is discovered to be starving. The mysterious ‘hedging and ditching man’ evades identification although there is a suggestion that this disreputable-looking old tramp is in fact the local squire. A happenstance meeting at the scene of an accident results in a fledgling music group being started up in the village.

All these anecdotes are narrated from the confused, curious, only partly-understanding point of view of a young boy. There is nostalgia here, that I particularly like.


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Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Why this book?

This is an interesting medley of stories by a writer I really admire. Some of them are connected by characters in common, and all set around music in some form. As usual with this writer, the prose is delicious. His depiction of twilight is particularly evocative.

My favourite story centred on an American movie actor and his wife. Their star is descending and their careers need a boost if they are to maintain their standing in the limelight. The actor hires a guitar player to serenade his wife beneath their window in Venice. That the two are deeply in love is very clear, but the gossip-hungry public and their need for publicity means that they will have to part. A heartbreaking tale.

Each of the stories is told from a different point of view, throwing a new and disparate light on each one, creating a complex and multi-layered dish.


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Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Book cover of Cloud Atlas

Why this book?

This is an epic read, a huge tome of a book that tackles the past, the future, the environment, and human nature by segueing six stories together, over-layering them, making clever connections between them, in a way that leaves me breathless every time I read it.

The title alone is intriguing. Normally, the atlas is a static depiction of the world and the viewer moves through it either by turning the pages or by travel. But in Cloud Atlas the clouds move and the viewer remains the fixed point. In this way, history passes before our eyes and metamorphoses into the present and the future. We learn the truism of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s maxim; “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same…


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