The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories

Joan Aiken  - published April 2011

April 19, 2011 · hardcover · 224 pp · 9781931520744 · $24 / ebook · 9781931520430

“Hair” was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror.

“It’s always the children’s book writers that you have to watch out for.”
—Jessa Crispin on Aiken—including an interview with Kelly Link—in Kirkus Reviews

“Part of a storytelling tradition that predates MFA programs and quiet epiphanies, and she concerned herself with a snappier brand of narrative entertainment.”
Review of Contemporary Fiction

“Joan Aiken’s collection of short stories The Monkey’s Wedding may sport a creepy cover illustration by artist and author Shelley Jackson, but the stories inside, which make the commonplace sinister, bear more of a resemblance to the work of another literary Jackson: the queen of the Gothic short story and author of The Lottery, Shirley Jackson. Like Shirley Jackson’s elegantly suspenseful tales, Aiken’s stories use the commonplace to show the darker truths beneath the familiar, but with a twist of humor and magic that makes the collection thought-provoking and fun, and one that begs to be shared and revisited often.”

“Brisk, matter-of-fact accounts of annoying mermaids, hospitable devils, unionizing mice and robot prototypes that make flipping light switches an act of menace. And the women range from self-willed wives to beautiful stunt motorcyclists to knitting spinsters. Sometimes they conform to the stereotypes of the times they were created in, but Aiken is full of surprises: Her plots and characters continually wander off the beaten track, leaving far behind what fantasist Lord Dunsany called ‘the fields we know.'”
The Seattle Times

“The entire collection is immensely enjoyable. The older stories date from the ’50s to 2002. They are short and sharp—not quite whimsical, though whimsy is a word that occurred to me—but they have a dark edge, simply a shadow sometimes (but rather more oppressive in a story like “Hair”) as well as a sense of unplannedness that somehow elevated the stories in my mind.”
—Rich Horton, Locus

Joan Aiken’s stories captivated readers for fifty years. They’re funny, smart, gentle, and occasionally very, very scary. The stories in The Monkey’s Wedding are collected here for the very first time and include seven never before published, as well as two published under the pseudonym Nicholas Dee. Here you’ll find the story of a village for sale . . . or is the village itself the story? There’s an English vicar who declares on his deathbed that he might have lived an entirely different life. After his death, a large, black, argumentative cat makes an appearance. . . .

This hugely imaginative collection of incongruous, light, and unexpected stories features Shelley Jackson’s spooky and eyecatching cover painting inspired by the story “A Mermaid Too Many” and includes introductions by Joan Aiken as well by her daughter, Lizza Aiken.

“Hair” was reprinted in the July/August issue of F&SF.
“Spur of the Moment” was reprinted in the eleventh issue of the journal Eleven Eleven.


* “This imaginative posthumous collection includes among others six never before published short stories and two originally published under a pseudonym…. Wildly inventive, darkly lyrical, and always surprising, this collection—like the mermaid in a bottle—is a literary treasure that should be cherished by fantastical fiction fans of all ages.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Each story has a surprise or twist. Many are ironic, go-figure pieces. They are just like real life, only more so. VERDICT: This book will appeal to readers of short stories and literary fiction. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

“Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, never ceasing to find interest or amazement in the traps people set for themselves. Some of the stories are slight, but Aiken’s elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A writer of great skill and charm.”

“Almost all the stories assembled in The Monkey’s Wedding—except for the devastating title story itself, from 1996, and “The Fluttering Thing” from 2002, which is set on a journey towards Final Solution; it is even more terrifying than The Scream, also 2002—flow with a porcelain lucidity and gaiety that manifests the high energy of Aiken’s early prime.”
—John Clute, Strange Horizons

“William Powell and Myrna Loy needed only ninety minutes to sparkle in The Thin Man, and the good-natured, prevaricating, meet-cute stars of “Spur of the Moment” require just twelve pages to showcase their equally impressive bantering skills.”
—James Crossley, Weird Fiction Review

“From a bottled mermaid brought home from a sailor’s adventures at sea to a vicar reincarnated as a malevolent cat, fantasy is combined with magic, myth and adventure to form weird, wonderful and immersive tales.”
For Book’s Sake

“In the author’s introduction, Aiken claims that many of her stories are inspired by dreams. I only wish my dreams were half as entertaining as Aiken’s tales.”
New Pages

“Perhaps one reason Aiken’s stories have weathered the decades so well is that they are concerned with the lives of ordinary people–they just happen to be ordinary people who live in a world where a mermaid or other such mythical or supernatural being might suddenly appear in order to play mischief with one’s well-maintained schedule.”
Green Man Review

“Aiken’s vivid descriptions move nimbly through pastoral meadows and circus chaos, gothic grotesques and quirky romances. In the end, all of her narratives tease the reader by rejecting our desire for neatness or closure. No didacticism here. As Aiken’s narrator sweetly laments, ‘No moral to this story, you will be saying, and I am afraid it is true.'”
California Literary Review

Things You Might Like

  • Aiken’s brilliant characterization
  • The fantastic mix of fantasy and realism
  • Incredibly visual writing
  • The ease with which the author skips from twee to slightly disturbing
    Bullet Reviews

“A fine introduction to her work – and may very well ensnare you forever.”
—Aishwarya Subramian, Practically Marzipan The Sunday Guardian

Table of Contents

Introduction by Joan Aiken
Introduction by Lizza Aiken
Girl in a Whirl

Harp Music
Octopi in the Sky
Reading in Bed
Red-Hot Favourite
Second Thoughts
Spur of the Moment
The Fluttering Thing
The Magnesia Tree
The Monkey’s Wedding
The Paper Queen
The Sale of Midsummer
Water of Youth
Wee Robin
A Mermaid Too Many
Model Wife
The Helper

Praise for Joan Aiken:

“Aiken writes with the genius of a born storyteller, with mother wit expanded and embellished by civilized learning, and with the brilliance of an avenging angel.”
The New Yorker

“The wit is irrepressible, the invention wild. . . . Such delicious lightness, paradoxically, is the fiction’s raison d’être.”
—Ed Park, Los Angeles Times

“An extremely active and creative mind, in all ways dedicated to the enjoyment of the reader.”
The Short Review

“Admirable stories for any age because they are dug from a delightful mind. Many will drop into their readers lives like those enriching stones which break the surfaces of still pools and leave rings long after their splash.”
Times Literary Supplement

“A consummate story-teller.”
The Times

“Joan Aiken’s invention seemed inexhaustible, her high spirits a blessing, her sheer storytelling zest a phenomenon. She was a literary treasure, and her books will continue to delight for many years to come.”
—Philip Pullman

“The best kind of writer, strange and spooky and surprising, never sentimental or whimsical.”
—Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners)

“Distinguished and sometimes beautiful writing.”
—Naomi Mitchison, New Statesman

About the Author

Best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote over a hundred books (including The Serial Garden) and won the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards. After her first husband’s death, she supported her family by copyediting at Argosy magazine and an advertising agency before turning to fiction. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Argosy, Women’s Own, and many others. Visit her online at:


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