Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
(My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)
(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)
Featuring stories by: Socrates Adams, AK Benedict, Neil Campbell, Ramsey Campbell, Stella Duffy, Julian Gough, Joel Lane, Stuart Evers, Will Self, Michael Marshall Smith, Alison MacLeod, Dan Powell, Jo Lloyd, HP Tinker, Robert Shearman, Jaki McCarrick, Jonathan Trigell, Emma Jane Unsworth, Jeanette Winterson.
I hope to gestalt real-time review this book over the next few months in the comment stream below…
Continued from BBSS 2011 here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/best-british-short-stories-2011/
My review of BBSS 2017 already completed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/best-british-short-stories-2017/
I Arrive First
EMMA JANE UNSWORTH
“The insides of books don’t interest me any more.”
This wonderful story arrives first in the book, as I do, too, its real-time reviewer waiting for the messages to arrive, Ah, it’s not me, after all, perhaps, even though the book itself has now eventually arrived in a SALT mine of mine, a story about a library, its carrels as ‘catacombs’, about to close for refurbishment, a woman and man who regularly message each other with book titles they place on the table. A potential romance? But is one messaging, the other not? And do they arrive at the coffee shop coincidentally or intentionally, both or either, when the library finally closes? They did not see me sitting at one of the tables already. Wondering what they would do later when things inevitably Kindle.
My later review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/murmurations-edited-by-nicholas-royle/#comment-12092
The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World
“My mistake was to set you a law without explaining why the law was being enforced, that’s not a sound basis for any legal system.”
This is a telling mixtape, of conversational archetypes and hatchways in a maze of well known fairy stories, like Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel with a trail of apple cores, Snow White, the Genesis myth etc. etc. With a God a bit like Frankie Howard “Oh. Oh. Suit yourselves.” And a world of aspirational existence getting smaller and smaller like a series of within the within Russian Dolls Houses as agents of artifice of happiness versus real constriction and sadness as human beings. Cindy and StEve, the new Adam and Eve, the dark spaces into which they invest their sex, and get their dead babies to spend their own dead lives, say, as bank clerks. My way out is to find the optimum dark space, the dark space provided by the novels and stories I preternaturally choose to Gestalt Real-Time Review or Dreamcatch or Hawl. Makes sense to me of the Maze. Gave me a sort of epiphany, this story. Can’t ask for more. Humble ambitions, humble returns. Suits me.
“At the very centre of the world, there’s a dark space. Don’t go to it. Don’t go. It isn’t a law. I’m not, ha, forbidding you.”
My reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/?s=Shearman&submit=Search
What’s in Swindon?
“Angela was not my first love, nor I hers; but it felt like we should have been.”
A claustrophobic, cellular first young love between Marty and Angela, a love wrought from or around or within a poorly provided living space, Marty then still smoking…
They split up, despite the wrought love.
Then in Swindon…
If I told you the circumstances, the interval between, the habits changed, the nature of Swindon, who invited whom, that would spoil everything for you.
I just loved the idea of them both, despite their ongoing deadpan, almost unconscious despair, a feeling in one shape or another that we all sort of tend to face without fully knowing it, whether in Swindon or not, cellulite or not. But I wonder whether you can guess which one of them, if any, stayed in Swindon, that sheared-off dark space.
Or whether they met again, under the auspices of a barista?
“: she was naked, but not in a good way.”
Alice in Time & Space and Various Major Cities
“Historically we had entered a new era of super volcanoes and climate chaos, the American psyche was in turmoil, and a fraud of frankly massive magnitude had spread its tentacles around the globe.”
‘“Anyway, we all of us now live in extraordinary times. The old days have fallen into disrepute. The old ways are redundant. Nobody knows what the hell is happening any more . . .’”
“‘But I wonder,’ I wondered, ‘if this strange meeting of ours might not be more than just mere chance. I mean, unexpected things do happen – all the time – for a variety of hugely improbable metaphysical reasons nobody actually understands. So perhaps you and I being here, together, like this, is part of some totally unfathomable higher plan . . .’”
A variation on the theme of renewing a relationship after some while, not in a Swindon hotel, but in an extrapolated future full of literary references and witty intellectual wordplay, and for something presumably first published in 2011, remarkably prescient of the huge distance we have since travelled in 7 years, as attested by the above rather inexcusably large quotes, and references to my own gestalt preternatural approach to fiction as religion.
And as with guns in Chekhov, we know what happens if a story features an erection.
Now cross-referenced with another HPT story: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22792-2/#comment-15117
“Pat would make him forget. Pat could make you forget all kinds of silly woes.”
Another renewing of a relationship with or from the past. A catharsis for Brendan. Quietly, almost painstakingly, spoken, with delicate plant names sown between, Pat’s visit to Ireland from their comradeship in London during the Troubles, such Troubles and Pat’s actions in them a legacy as obstacle for Brendan’s clear sight still apparent today, forty years later, I guess. Very well characterised men and the environs of this Irish community where Brendan lives now without really having opened his eyes upon it. An eye for an eye, or a favour for a favour?
Today (in the story) was Clinton’s first (and last?) visit to that Irish community, a celebratory visit now seen as objective-correlative to this telling tale of a different visit. You know who I mean without using a certain word as cursory title to ‘Clinton’ in this my 2018 review of a 2011 published story, but is that word ‘President’ or ‘Hillary’?
“A beat of silence followed before the children whispered ‘Granny did a swear’…”
A very touching story of sudden bereavement for Annie, Granny, and deceptively simple. You need to break an egg to make an omelette and maybe a heart to mow a lawn. The moulding between, beat to beat, is the crux.
Astonishingly, earlier this afternoon, in a concurrent real-time review (https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/black-static-62-interzone-274/#comment-11941), I wrote about a story called ‘Never the Twain’ about someone half-dying… absolutely astonishing resonance.
‘I’m the Guy Who Wrote The Wild Bunch’
“Because she, you know, she stood out somewhat in this script, we had to rewrite a bunch of scenes to find her something to do, and she stood out among all these guys,…”
A hilarious account via an interview by the story’s author with the co-writer (with Sam Peckinpah) of The Wild Bunch and the strictures of cinema commercialism. A cancerous growth of a feminine interest injected into a spaghetti western, later morphing for me into a sort of metaphor for fiction and the reality it traps. Or, rather, vice versa.
If you enjoy this story, you will also enjoy the classic novel CLARK by Brendan Connell: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/clark-by-brendan-connell/
Those Who Remember
I am one of those who remember Joel Lane … as attested by my Joel Lane Page here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/1479-2/
And I have already reviewed this story when I first read it in 2015 as part of his posthumous collection ‘Scar City’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/scar-city-a-new-collection-by-joel-lane/#comment-5681
“Opposite a new multi-storey car park, I saw the old cinema where Dean and I had gone to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when we were twelve.”
And having just reread it, it seems to chime with this BBSS book’s previous story as well as this Lane work’s powerful rendition of the recurring attrition of the cruelty of urban poverty and that of the lack of due humanity, and the terms of buddyhood with its lethal instinctive macho interactions here as well as, now, significantly, in this book’s context, the lightsome touch of gay bravado of a new poignant wild-bunch, this time a bunch of two, with their final frozen recurring death, as embedded in that quote above. Making the Lanean attrition somehow seem even more attritional, even more powerful. Together with this new passage that I just noticed – “Like some historian said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. And those who remember do it anyway.”
To Brixton Beach
“Two old ladies, holding age-spotted hands.”
Everything is beautiful from burkini to office workers to mothers dangling their kids. South London swimpool amid an urban setting that is familiar to me is made Proustian to the sound of Fauré with mainly joyful screams instead of baritones and altos. And the nature of the ending of this description of the pool and its inmates in the eyes of Charlie I dare not impart exactly here but it was cinematic and perfectly beyond reality as any reality can be made to facsimile an intrinsic beauty. A cinematic recurrency echoing obliquely the urban recurrency of Lane in the previous story. He swims there now in another city.
But does Brixton really have such a swimpool. I dare not google it.
Wide and Deep
Other than its title (that relates to the previous story), I feel like copying out the whole of this still resonating story as my real-time review, but that would take far too long.
Cross- referenced here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/murmurations-edited-by-nicholas-royle/#comment-12278
Tarnished Sorry Open
“, a blunder a child of ten would have spotted.”
…that now seems to make sense, having just read the previous story.
Meanwhile, this tale is my alternate life after university onward, but a life that starts almost the same, pubs and offices where the galaxies had not yet created themselves computers to live in, but then my life varied because other things started to happen during it, while essentially it is the same ME, stoical, slightly OCD, attritional, detached, literal-minded, immersed in CODE, supervisory and subject to others’ mistakes, a world that really existed, still exists elsewhere, and so it suddenly dawns on me that THIS is my alternate life where I’m not so literal-minded and write this in real-time about an incredibly telling tale. Pretty women and girls now vanished from draping themselves stoically all over the room, having once pined for me.
“Music is playing from another room, so that only the bass can be heard. It is the same music, it seems to Patrick, as he used to hear from his room at university.”
Aperitifs With Mr Hemingway
“I always joked with Rose that I’d do a Hemingway if she went first.”
There are more ways than one to skin a cat – and to do a Hemingway. Just being lean and pithy, word weighed against word, and when you get old, as I should know, it’s time to keep things simple. No more gestalt floweriness. Trigell’s Trigger means just look today’s rude young louts straight between the eyes, beyond the deadly edge, then tell yourself there is always a new hope of past beginnings sweetly primed and handleable…
Sun on Prospect Street
“, they see the straight lines running to another brick bridge, where a lad called Wayne had fallen off and ended up in a wheelchair.”
Well caught or saved, whatever the goal, I say.
This is a tale of Joe and Leo on the cusp of puberty spending what I once thought were endless summer holidays from school, here even more attritional, as they kick a ball about and sit by the canal under a motorway. (As an adult, I once spent a summer holiday on a narrowboat, in this story called a barge, travelling via many locks under such motorways.) But a tale tellingly stoical, too, as the boys know that one of them is leaving the area next week. And so he does. And so do we all throughout life. We even forget life’s bullies that still beset us and how they even nearly shot you into a wheelchair, too. That outcome’s for another day yet to come? Seems to be a blood brother with the previous story and this anthology’s other attritions. And Joeleo, too.
The Room Beyond
“The number on Todd’s door was dangling head down from its one remaining screw.”
And an earlier pen nib that wrote as it were a ‘senile limb’, I recall. This story is a quaint memorable extended joke masquerading as Jacob Todd’s very disturbing rite of passage, booking into this hotel, a hotel taken to be the one he had inded pre-booked, in this old-fashioned English town that seems to be living at a decade or two before when the story is set, and the hotel is in the town Todd has not visited for fifty years, at a time when, as a boy, he visited his Aunt and Uncle (an uncle who also had jokes as well as visits to a mysterious doctor’s surgery beyond the waiting-room door when Todd accompanied him and all is magnified or made strange in that past time by Todd’s imagining future hindsight, I guess), a town where Todd is due to attend a funeral tomorrow, and another room beyond his own room in this very faulty hotel, where the receptionist and waiter (as well as his Aunt and Uncle in the past) seem to talk in quaint idioms that can be taken more than one way, although as an oldster myself, I, too, know these idioms well and can see straight through them towards the insidious meanings or untruths that might lie behind such idioms. Or behind Todd’s hotel room’s connecting room. Missing letters, notwithstanding. And any inferred surveillance. (Yesterday, I synchronously reviewed (here) a recent novella called ‘a spy in the panopticon’ with conjoining rooms connected by a spyhole and similar tropes of mysterious fumblings of discovery with codes and other hangers-on and doors and passages, otherwise a quite different plot altogether). The outcome in this story, the consecutive one in this book by someone called Campbell, is even more disturbing. But I sense it was meant as a joke. About the nature of funerals. At the end I felt as Todd did when “Todd was starting to feel as he’d felt as a child – that everyone around him knew a secret he wouldn’t learn until he was older.” Christ the Redeemer, notwithstanding.
My previous reviews of Ramsey Campbell HERE.
In what then, when this Self story was published, an SF extrapolation of iPads as the world itself, as two doctors discuss legacy in such scientific discoveries of medical conditions in the case of Anna and her Selfies.
Some wonderful turns of phrase and concept, but what it brought to mind was Richard Brautigan’s ‘iDeath’ that he used in one of his 1960s ‘fiction’ works.
Also a brilliant reversal of the body reversal in the Ramsey Campbell.
The Heart of Denis Noble
“Then his choice of pre-op music — the second movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-Flat Major – seems to flow, sweet and grave,…”
Sweet and grave. Finally ungrave, I guess. A loop of Proustian feedback. This music is as if it’s the cake dipped in tea, a Trigell trigger of Noble’s life, from the moment his heart beat within his mother, whom, like Marcel, he loved, fell in love with? Ethel, then Ella. The wartime blackout, saved by a bespoke tailoring on a Singer machine. Then, later slaughterhouse hearts to forge the Frankenstein mad scientist, the tickling of hearts with electricity, and now as founder of such procedures, that loop again, he awaits, as grandfather and classical guitarist, the final expiry of that heart of his from inside Ethel with a new transplanted heart. The heart of darkness, at last given light. Inspiring not only in itself as a feedback rapture or rhapsody of a life lived, thus still to live, but also inspiring for me by giving me perhaps the most important raison d’être yet for my ten year anniversary of gestalt real-time reviewing fiction (please forgive the long quote below)… The Northern Line journey and the trial of Lady Chatterly, notwithstanding. I learnt about the latter at school as it happened, gamekeeper and so forth, and the former was my later route to work. Not forgetting Swindon, later. A Heart’s Hawling.
“‘Then I’ll re-phrase, shall I? A story is not an “it”. If it’s any good, it’s more alive than an “it”. Every part of a great story “contains” every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole. Nothing can be passive or static. Nothing is just a part. Not really. Because the whole, if it’s powerful enough that is, cannot be divided. That’s what a great creation is. It has its own marvellous unity.’”
Pingback: The Noble Heart | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS
We Wave and Call
“The soft wet bite of her lips, the trace of her fingers, the thin material of her skirt in your hand, the weight of her warmth against you. It was probably nothing at all.”
…a near miss.
After the earlier Brixton swimpool, your headily tactile swim during your summer holiday abroad with sun and bays and music clubs and restaurants, an abroad with a recent backstory of war, buildings’ war damage still merging in with the old and the now new, your holiday as a toing and froing young man half out for your oats, half lazily swimming watching the others, those other young men and young women, watching them catch the bus back to the hotel. Lazily, a near miss, a you that could have been once in a war or about to be. Nicely done, I felt I had been swimming lazily in the words of your story watching the slow pirouette of life, and the way things sometimes happen before a near miss becomes a full one. But as the MacLeod just said: nothing can be passive or static?
All I Know About Gertrude Stein
“Gertrude Stein hated commas.”
And anything can happen but when? There is there is there is there, if not a Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose, a near miss, as in the previous story, or a direct hit, when it comes, there a drowning, here stomach cancer. Perhaps Hilary Mantel doesn’t hate commas in another volume of these anthologies; even if something coming into her body or something leaving it squawling? Something apt for today, from this story of seven years ago – “The F-words. Facebook, fucking, frigid, faking it.” Or forgiveness, it asks. Or fiction, I ask. This extrapolation of Alice B Toklas and Gertrude Stein is an amazing fiction spur for brainstorming. Women as the only vessels of love. Indeed, of proper sex, itself, as a form of modern art. Or a blue period? A parallel relationship with the narrator’s in this story, spurring further thoughts. I’d love a portrait of my loved one after that near miss became a direct hit, after she has gone there, away from here – a portrait of her on the living-room wall, especially one painted by Picasso. We could continue talking, at least.
“I only suffer from lesbianism. I am not a vampire.”
— Caitlín R. Kiernan (Scene in the Museum here)
Sad, Dark Thing
MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH
“He made the coffees in a machine that sat on the kitchen counter and cost nearly eight hundred dollars. It made a very good cup of coffee. It should. It had cost nearly eight hundred dollars.”
When you are an ‘aimless’ writer, you tend to create longueurs and repetitions. It is the sort of thing you do. It make sense to while away the time. For you and your reader. This work has forebears in this book’s swimming and waiting for each near-miss deadpan death. The there of there, the here of here, the final comma. This tale of a man who drives aimlessly the forest roads, following makeshift signs, trying to forget the wife and daughter who left him to this now lonely, once happier terrain. And, don’t get me wrong, there is compelling suspense in this story (perhaps unintended) as we also follow the signs he follows, accompanying him, there and back again, with what he found there. And it paid me huge dividends; this story itself is a sad, dark thing.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/michael-marshall-smith/ and https://conezero.wordpress.com/82-2/
The Last Library
“How can you verify if something doesn’t exist? If you haven’t seen it, it might.”
This book’s coda as the world’s last story in the world’s last book, but we know better. Because here it is. And I, for one, know books that have come out since. But I am here on the Internet, a sad, dark thing, an iDEATH, and I increasingly doubt my own existence, let alone the books I read and review. On the face of it, meanwhile, this story tells of a girl visiting the last museum with her mum and dad and a crowd of others, being guided around by an officious guide. A museum of all last things. The last painting is Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein, but of course, I may be a lying reviewer, as well as all the other things I’m called. The guide describes authors as gardeners, at one point. And the girl and a boy she meets manage to smuggle a few books before they are destroyed, and they plant bits of them. Eventually, a Lending Garden where a book is a book is a book is a book…
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ak-benedict/
Then I’ll re-phrase, shall I? A gestalt library is not an “it”. If it’s any good, it’s more alive than an “it”. Every part of a gestalt library “contains” every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole. Nothing can be passive or static. Nothing is just a part. Not really. Because the whole, if it’s powerful enough that is, cannot be divided. That’s what a great creation is. It has its own marvellous unity. (With acknowledgement to the Alison MacLeod above)
There is always a room beyond. Wide and deep.
My reviews of this series of anthologies will now continue here in due course: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/best-british-short-stories-2013/
All my BBSS reviews linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/best-british-short-stories/