Marina Warner

Murderers I Have Known and Other Stories

Short stories

Like her award-winning novels, Marina Warner’s stories conjure up mysteries and wonders in a physical world, treading a delicate, magical line between the natural and the supernatural, between openness and fear. In ‘Natural Limits’, a bereaved woman, contemplating the massacre of 11,000 virgins, comes to terms with the unimaginable.

The title story and ‘Canary’ search for signs of evil or innocence written on the body, and a ‘canary’ dies of toxic malice, while in ‘Daughters of the Game’ and ‘The Armour of Santo Zcnobio’ body doubles stand in for saints and film stars. Beneath a charismatic or saintly carapace there often turns out to be a man of straw.

The ‘insomniac princess’ finds that unheard melodies are indeed sweeter; whereas other stories give voice to the traditionally voiceless the artist’s model, the film double, and, in a grisly reworking of the Brothers Grimm, a girl with bells not on her toes but on her hands.

Here are fabulous images of saints and sinners, bats and nightingales, pink flesh and putrefaction in an electrifying new collection.


Like the Cabinet of Curiosity she describes in her story Natural Limits, the tales in Marina Warner’s collection Murderers I Have Known are articles imbued with wonder. As with her first short fiction collection Mermaids in the Basement, each tale combines Warner’s immense academic erudition with the ordinary miracles of living and dying. The protagonists range from a woman, who in her need to overcome grief, creates a special ritual where she eats the ashes of the departed on her salad — to a young girl with body dysmorphia who believes her hands to be bells. Inside each life described exists a connection to fable and the fantastic that lift everyday experiences towards the collective consciousness in which mythology resides. Delicate and luminous, Warner’s stories are to be savoured.

Nadine Whitney, Fiend Magazine

When it comes to the territory between commentator and storyteller, Warner is a pretty fluid shapeshifter herself. The stories in Murderers I Have Known, unremittingly contemporary in their settings and subjects, are a kind of warning about the importance of shapeshifting between selves, times, genders, art-forms, material and spiritual worlds. There is a danger, Warner suggests, right now at what she calls “the degenerate moment of the century”, of losing this ease of movement altogether.Not that this is a grim read; on the contrary, it is a lightfooted and often funny collection.’

Ali Smith, The Guardian

‘J. G Ballard maintains that there is no such thing as a perfect novel, but that short stories can, occasionally, achieve perfection. Evidence that he is right is provided by Marina Warner’s scintillating new short-story collection /Murderers I Have Known/ in which she, too, displays elegant modern humour shot through with a sexiness not perhaps to be expected from a writer better known for non-fiction works on myth, magic, symbolism and fairytales. ‘

Michael Thompson-Noel, The Financial Times

‘Warners’ short stories, like those of A. S. Byatt, occupy a rich and delicate terrain between the fairytale and the real, the academic and the observed. /Murderers I Have Known /contains nine stories .... spun in a glittering web that traps ideas on innocence and evil in the physical world for our inspection. Flesh is manipulated, deceived, tortured and massacred, yet the intellectual poise of Warner’s prose makes it not only bearable but highly enjoyable.’

Amanda Craig, The Times

First published by Chatto & Windus, 2010