The Dressing-Up Box

Against the backdrop of war, a group of children barricade themselves in an abandoned townhouse, cherishing what’s left of their innocence with the help of a dressing-up box...

A deep-sea diver takes to being suspended for hours at a time on the end of a line not long enough to reach the seabed...

An aging widower moves into the shed at the end of his garden to plan out his ‘endgame’ surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of hoarded curiosities...

The characters in David Constantine’s fifth collection are all in pursuit of sanctuary; the violence and mendacity of the outside world presses in from all sides – be it the ritualised brutality suffered by children at a Catholic orphanage, or the harrowing videos shared among refugees of an atrocity ‘back home’. In each case, the characters withdraw into themselves, sometimes abandoning language altogether, until something breaks and they can retreat no further. In Constantine’s luminous prose, these stories capture such moments in all their clarity; moments when an entire life seems to hang in the balance, the past’s betrayals exposed, its ghosts dragged out into the daylight; moments in which the possibility of defiance and redemption is everything.

Please note: this is the paperback edition.

Praise for David Constantine:

‘Perhaps the finest of contemporary writers in this form.’ – The Reader

‘Constantine’s writing is rare today...unafraid to be rich and allusive and unashamedly moving.’ – The Independent


Listen to David Constantine on BBC Radio 3's 'Let Me Take You There' series.

Read '2020', an essay by David Constantine about writing fiction in lockdown at The State of the Arts.

Read an interview with David Constantine about truth and hope in The Dressing-Up Box at The London Magazine.

Praise for The Dressing-Up Box:

'Dramatic, daring and dark... There's enormous tension to the stories, but there is often a small but powerful moment of hope.' Hear The Dressing-Up Box reviewed on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review.

'This fifth book of superb short fiction confirms an extraordinary talent' - The Times 

'It will reward the effort' - The Irish Times

'Inventive... incredibly moving' - The Daily Mail

'Subtlety marks every tale in this intelligent, unshowy and often moving collection.' - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

'The Dressing-Up Box is one of the most accomplished short story collections in years.' - STORGY 
One of editor Ross Jefferey's 'Best Books Read in 2019': '...a gem of a book, for me it had everything - and a little bit more...'

'The Dressing-Up Box does the deepest work of fiction - it tells us strange, hard, beautiful truths for our time. Constantine offers a quietly furious and moving collection packed with undefended children and lost adults, personalities grown eccentric under stress and raging for mercy. Nightmares shift, blood flows in rivers and humanity responds with strange mercy, humour and a desperate appetite for love.' - A. L. Kennedy

'Profoundly a book for our time, full of despair, sorrow, terror, hope and tenderness, The Dressing-Up Box confirms what Constantine's readers have suspected for years: that he may be the greatest living English short story writer.' - Gregory Norminton

'A brilliant collection.' - Ian McMillan

'Precise in their intensity, unsettling, suddenly and unexpectedly luminous, these stories will stay with you and unfurl within you.' - Lucy Caldwell

'A beautifully crafted tender, evocative collection. Full of wisdom and light.' - Irenosen Okojie

'David Constantine's fifth collection of stories is a fierce and tender meditation on our struggle to live - a lyrical and plainspoken portrait of humanity at its pernicious worst and its suffering, creative, resilient best.' - Carys Davies

'David Constantine is fearless. His work is dark and daring while, at turns, also humorous and tender. This collection cements his position as one of the UK's finest short story writers.' - Paul McVeigh

'One of the short-story writers who matter, poetic, passionate and humane.' - Maggie Gee

'Constantine's writing is addictive. Every sentence is another shot of beauty, of mystery and mastery. How does he do it? You can read his stories over and over - you will always return for more. This fifth collection proves, yet again, he is a master of the short story.' - Lara Pawson

'In the title story of David Constantine's new collection, the Dressing-Up Box is a seemingly bottomless repository of costumes that allows children in a dystopian future to re-enact less turbulent times. Across the volume, characters are caughts between the uncertain future and the shadow of the past. Constantine's rolling sentences create their own world that catches the imagination.' - David Hebblethwaite

'A brilliant and hugely varied collection of dystopian, Gothic, realist and magic-realist stories by David Constantine - violence, horror and trauma, shot through with the optimism of children and childhood rebellion. Loved it.' - Jonathan Taylor

'Unlike anything I've ever read! It's deliriously beautiful!' - Patty, Waterstones Witney

'Some of the stories feel a little like myths being retold, or new takes on old legends, but perhaps, in dark times. David Constantine is suggesting that we might need to look backwards in order to move forwards.' - Sarah-Clare Conlon, Creative Tourist

'The worlds he creates are heterotopic, yet within each one he generates skilfully, often with minimal brushstrokes, the sense of a whole life, as in the short stories of Raymond Carver.' - Livi Michael, The Manchester Review

'Constantine's latest collection is a cornucopia of wonders' - Sabotage Reviews

'The Dressing-Up Box is a wonderfully dark collection' - Stephanie Burton, Literary Flits

'I would recommend it to anyone who reads in order to think more deeply about ourselves as human beings. It is powerful stuff.' - Ellie Hawkes

'Constantine at full pelt is something special, I sat back and admired, engaged, felt.' - Alan Beard (Goodreads)

'If you want a beautiful collection of short stories to read slowly and thoughtfully this is the book for you.' - Goodreads user

Buy Hard Copy

Retail Price £9.99

Online Price £8.99

Buy the eBook

Book Details

28 May 2020

About the Author

More by David Constantine

The Dressing-Up Box

Much-anticipated fifth collection by decorated short story writer, previous winner of the BBC National Short Story Award and the Frank O‘Connor International Short Story Award.

Tea at the Midland

The characters in David Constantine’s fourth collection are often delicately caught in moments of defiance. Constantine’s bewitching, finely-wrought stories give us permission to escape.

The Shieling

The characters in David Constantine’s remarkable new collection are united by an urge to absent themselves, to abscond from the intolerable pressures of normal life and withdraw into strange ideas, political causes, even private languages.

Under the Dam

Entering Constantine’s stories is like stepping out into a wind of words, a swarm of language. His prose is as fluid as the water that surges and swells through all his landscapes.

The Life-Writer

A new novel, written by critically acclaimed short story writer, David Constantine.

In Another Country: Selected Stories

Gathering together stories from over two decades of writing, this selection demonstrates why Constantine has been hailed as ‘perhaps the finest of contemporary writers in this form’. Featuring the story that inspired the motion picture, 45 Years.