Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
(My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)
(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)
Stories by Colette de Curzon, Adam O’Riordan, Jane McLaughlin, William Thirsk-Gaskill, Alison MacLeod, Adrian Slatcher, M John Harrison, Jo Mazelis, Conrad Williams, Kelly Creighton, Wyl Menmuir, Owen Booth, Tania Hershman, Mike Fox, Brian Howell, CD Rose, Chloe Turner, Eley Williams, Lisa Tuttle, Ian Robinson.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Continued from my,previous reviews of this anthology series here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/best-british-short-stories-2017/
All linked here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/best-british-short-stories/
I read and reviewed the first story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/de-curzon-wheldon/ and below is what I then wrote about it in that context –
PAYMON’S TRIO by Colette de Curzon
“…and I hated as much as I admired the music I was rendering.”
My copy is numbered 42/200. The former number having the answer to all things?
On one level, an effectively disturbing supernatural classic tale of the old school, a new discovery after being written in the year when I was one year old and subsequently hidden away, judging by the genuine sounding information on the back cover of this aesthetic pamphlet.
It tells of a discovery by means of what I have long called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’. You look for for one book of which you have some knowledge in the real world but you find another book instead by accidental means, one you have not heard of and looking a tad old and ‘occult.’ It is a book where hidden away in its stuck down fly leaf is a music score for a classical trio for piano, violin and cello, so intriguing that you get your two male friends one by one – the third one being younger than you and your other friend and a bit more effeminate-faced – gradually, by accretive course of the seemingly autonomous plot, to play this score’s music oxymoron, instrument by instrument. With, as I say, disturbing results. Adept, on that level. Well worth reading for those who like the genre of strange stories.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS PLUS A WARNING:-
A hour or so before reading this story, I had synchronous cause to re-read and review here a story called ‘Winter’s Traces’ that first appeared in my edited/published Classical Music Horror Story Anthology in 2012. It explicitly tells, inter alios, of what it calls “The love that dare not speak and all that” in connection with autonomous earworms and the relationship of an old composer who had just died, and his younger long-term companion called Christopher. Having now researched, in the light of the de Curzon work, the name Paymon (Paimon) and his dromedary that appear as an image on the discovered music score, I seriously wonder if this recently discovered and Nightjar published story in itself that tells us of such recondite discoveries-within-discoveries is actually implying horrors that should not have been dared spoken of? Let alone released into the world or played, instrument by instrument, until all three instruments are being played in unison? Too late for me to worry.
A THUNDERSTORM IN SANTA MONICA by Adam O’Riordan
“No matter how earnestly she talked about the life she planned in Malibu, she seemed drawn to these temporary, transitory, anonymous spaces, the residue of someone else’s life hanging about them still.”
Hanging about like perishable fresh fruit in a wounded aeroplane? Or cigarette butts littering like the droppings of a caged bird? This story of loose ends and where to gain fixture has some remarkable emotional tactility of modern prose, as Harvey goes on a caprice of a Randomance with Teresa in Los Angeles, but she suddenly diverts to New York. The storm bifurcates, too, into a split orientation. Unfixed heteromance … or a life-critical bromance before the fruit wilts?
TRIO FOR FOUR VOICES by Jane McLaughlin
“‘Espèce de con!,’ she shouts at him.”
Akin to Paymon’s trio? this could be a Henry James ghost story ambiance, or Thomas Mann made into a film by Visconti, watching people in a continental hotel, here a tiny young girl not a grown boy, but nothing sexual we assume, more a tableau or frightful game of motives, two parents, girlchild, and the witness as narrator played by Dirk Bogarde or by a woman actor, and who is gulling whom? But what’s the pay-off? Absolutely nifty arrangement of quandary.
[I note this story was first published by Cinnamon Press. My concurrent review of Anne Cluysenaar poems here. Note an audit trail to a personal connection ]
HOW TO BE AN ALCOHOLIC by William Thirsk-Gaskill
“I think it is the salt that does it.”
I thought the author’s name obliquely appropriate to the story title before which it sits in the book. Irony-beyond-irony, this is a How to screed … leading to a case study. An extension without enough plug-sockets for today’s motley chargers, and with visitors who come and go whether you invited them or not, the narrator being one such. Loose ends unfixed like the O’Riordan, but too tipsy to emulate its fashionable modern prose? Inferences and tips galore, as to how to hide drink about the house, how to get more of it without driving… and how to end up writing stories that end deadpan and open-ended and lackadaisical. The words and the letters in them a bit like lazy jumping-fleas. There is something called work to be done. Absolutely nifty sardonic material, though. A story like a permanently lit LED bulb.
WE ARE METHODISTS by Alison MacLeod
“Olive oil. Balsamic. Sea salt. Quinoa. Wild rice. Omega oil and green tea supplements.”
Autonomously symbolic tumescent tulips. Desert sand ghosting from Iraq to Brighton. A sea ferry in “calculated drift.” A trio for three voices where we only meet two people, now a quadrille of sheet-folding, meet and fold, meet and fold. And much more on my mnemonic shopping-list. A woman narrator having taken over a converted sea-viewing Methodist Church as her home has a handyman, for a few days, to overhaul the boiler system, two strangers together, but autonomously imparting secrets to each other. Backstories to each other that meet and fold, meet and fold, without volition, but full of poignancy and horrors of a past war and lumps in the text that may or may not be cancerous, the more we look at them, weigh them like words of calculated drift. Something special, with its own ‘bleed key’ for bespoke usage and is what we need to adjust the story’s emotional heat, and what or whom to dreamcatch from its fishy ebb and flow, what to hawl from its layers of fat or slim, from its bass or treble voices (one voice on a chance or self-ignited mobile), and what to scry from the design of its chapel window, a sea-view that provides the lighting for the method-acting of those who remain our two strangers.
My previous references to Alison MacLeod: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-macleod/
I have now cross-referenced this story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/transit-rachel-cusk/#comment-13377
LIFE GRABS by Adrian Slatcher
“He overlaid street data, he overlaid map data.”
This is one of the re-runs of the recurrent meet and fold, meet and fold, in the previous story. This story, meanwhile, is an extremely chilling account of a man who lost his small son some years ago to an abductee in a blue car. A tragic memory he tries to transcend, eventually to fathom what happened with the use of old footage and new footage from CCTV and other ‘screen grabs’ from outside the shop where it happened and today’s new technological facilities of editing and filmic palimpsest. Till a final real-time catharsis of gestalt … for me, a sort of ‘Return to Sender.’ If I told you more, it would spoil it.
I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/you-should-come-with-me-m-john-harrison/ and below is what I then wrote about it in that context
DOG PEOPLE by M. John Harrison
“The light, like seaside light, seemed to make the streets wider and more spacious.”
A Bowen-esque series of nifty observations like practice smiles of a comatose woman in a hospital of Yummies, the cats who know the whereabouts of the Garden of Eden and a house’s dog smells and asthma. Although Bowen might not have written from the point of view of a man (the comatose woman’s son) with an over-attentive, ugly girl friend called Myra who picked him up at an Arts centre. But she might have written an excellent book about the man’s sister. And of Chiswick or Acton, if not Bow. Incidentally, I reviewed a very weird story by Aki Schilz recently specifically about psychoarcheological Hanwell. I wouldn’t touch Hammersmith with a barge-pole, though, nor would Myra. This book had Barnes earlier.
SKIN by Jo Mazelis
“It was the coldest day…”
Here, when I read it, on our hottest! As if it defies me from the start.
Yet, it is amenable enough to continue the film footage as collation in the art flicks from the Slatcher, together with the cat smells of the Harrison next to it, and its meeting at the Arts Club. Indeed, here in the Mazelis, Clara’s relationship is based on Art and Sex with Kaspar (if that is his name), meeting him at the Metropolitan Art Gallery in one frame short of the wrong Scream. Another half-chance love affair like that earlier in the O’Riordan under a thunderstorm divided into two when the scream in the plane was cut off before it happened? I somehow sense this whole book may become a gestalt sculptural collage, not a collection of standalone skin-flicks ending as a sky-shot.
I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/i-will-surround-you-conrad-williams/ and below is what I then wrote about it in that context:
CWTCH by Conrad Williams
“It was as if the wood had lungs and he had detected the rhythm of its breathing.”
…in telling contrast to this book’s erstwhile kipper lungs of some old people who chain-smoked when it was fashionable to do so.
This work is a classic camping story, one that ‘The Fox’ would have been if it had not been so neatly parcelled between past and present. Here, we need to consider all variations of what happened then and now as well as the choice of words as synonyms used to unparcel it. Bridging the devil’s interval of future with past. [Together with the concept of ‘rust ghosts’, one for any writer to die for.]
A Grandpa-type goes camping on his own to a silence-friendly site without children. But the disturbances in the night about which he plans to complain represent only one variation of an expressed nostalgia for his childhood camping holidays to Wales when his parents told him to share sweets with his twin sister Mo. An essentially disturbing connection to and fro across that interval of time. A remarkable work caught between words and worlds.
AND THREE THINGS BUMPED by Kelly Creighton
“I think ten might be my lucky number, he said.”
Like the occasions – about which we are told – of the narrator bumping into a taxi-driver called Stephen Kent. A gestalt of a life based on taxi-talk, if not pub-talk or other small-talk, from different viewpoints of time’s marital attrition. A minor bump of his son’s head needing medical attention. A minor road accident holding up the route to A&E. But whose marital attrition? Whose writerly objective in formulating that gestalt of a life — a never-completed gestalt like Zeno’s Paradox? Or a jobless cuff-link looking for its pair. Cuff-linked for fraud. All talk – but talk about whom? Strangers passing in the night. Some of us bumping en passant. Like me and this author on a story-taxi? Not sure who is driving whom and for what creative fare? Nothing is fair. Life is unfair, I guess. Particularly when you have kids. Then juggling the days of depleting desire. Stephen, any relation to Clark?
IN DARK PLACES by Wyl Menmuir
Caving or spelunking, as a Hawling process, with thoughts and souls entrapped watching new cavers, caring for cavers, or spurning them, building a pareidoliac picture of the cave system and its history of visitors and casualties, today a couple, with a guide, the characterised woman of which couple wants to ‘see’ the darkness, a picture of the cave system as a labyrinth like that of this site’s hyper-imaginative fiction, a Picnic at Hanging Rock type vanishment, as one example, or part of a current affairs gestalt like the latest Thai rains cutting off, there rescued by meditation and luck, it seemed, but now we know it’s the first person plural of this story that saved them. A powerful vision near the dark centre of this book.
My previous reviews of Wyl Menmuir: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/wyl-menmuir/
THE WAR by Owen Booth
“(war, says the war, being the locomotive of history and so on.)”
A striking anthropomorphism of war (all wars as one war), with war posing (in conversation with us) its causes and its claims and its fears and its historical timeline (not originating with the previous story’s cavemen but some even more distant ice age?) and its possible future at this posing’s end when its claims perhaps are not even believed by the leasehold eponym itself as a thinking-force posed by the freehold author who created it to voice such claims. This rhodomontade would be great read aloud. Provocative and theatrical.
AND WHAT IF ALL YOUR BLOOD RAN COLD
by Tania Hershman
“Real life doesn’t work on a schedule that suits an audience.”
And the ellipsis as ending proves that point! An intriguing typographical enjambmentation of left and right justification alternately, almost looking like an epic poem. Synergising the death actuaries with real surgeons among us (two of us exchanging romantic glances?) as we try to beat eschatology at it its own game in this soft brexit of the border between Life and Death …. Life and Death as anthropomorphs towards a suspended disbelief or belief (not sure which!) in a biker’s mantle of a near death experience. Suggested Swiftian moral — don’t cryology over spilt blood.
Whatever, Life often ends with a coma,
THE HOMING INSTINCT by Mike Fox
“This they tolerated: food mostly came with God attached.”
A tale of rough sleepers, a particular chance-met couple, a man and a woman, under the arches near the river, both stoical as to the charity gaps, the woman pre-harmed by heroin. Visited by a heron, in ‘assertive outreach’, as well as by the woman’s key-worker. We all need to work that key I guess. Unlock this telling, poignant story. And the potential synergy of nature, human and non-human.
MASK by Brian Howell
“He half-meant it.”
The masks here are only half meant for the face. I gather masks in Japan are more common. Its air being less good (?), filtered via the hooked tines of the teeth like Jimi’s purple haze, some captured by the pockets or dungeons behind the teeth? This is an ever-resonating, potentially tumescent, story of a Japanese man, a story that builds a half-masked picture of a female dental hygienist and the different area of Tokyo he needs to visit to attend her, a genuine genius-loci, within a story that one wonders if it is reflected in its own dilemma about itself: “…almost impossible to say if it was a found object or a truly sculpted piece.” Now I’ve read this potential classic of extraordinary Robbe-Grillet cuisine al dente, and have by now felt what it has accretively managed to do to me, more than just potentially. But I further need to satisfy the story’s own desire for me to do what I will to it? My masked review, you see, is only halfway through its massaging, and halfway again, and so on, like Zeno’s Paradox.
My previous reviews of Brian Howell:
Just cross-referenced this Brian Howell story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/06/aiaigasa-quentin-s-crisp/#comment-13295
SISTER by CD Rose
“, tried to explain something I’d read about a remote tense,”
A sister portraying her twin sister. Tenuous and slightly ungraspable in hindsight. I suspect if you try to reread it or a publisher to reprint it, there will only be one sister to read about.
WAITING FOR THE RUNNERS by Chloe Turner
Or for the beens of life to be again? In a mix of people waiting for the schoolkids returning from a cross-country. (We are a very cross country, at the moment, by the way, especially in rural areas like this one.) The narrator as mother has a son who will lead this race alongside another boy, the latter being the son of her ex’s new wife. And the mother (the new wife) waits with her newer daughter, obviously the narrator’s ex’s own. Not as complicated as life CAN be. Yet filled with a clipped symphony of telling phrases that are evoked by wilting sunflowers, a woodpecker, a blackbird, a pumpkin with tea light inside, a honking woman teacher like a Thelwell pony, and more. The tensions between the women — and their future or past come-uppances and personal tragedies experienced stoically for life to toddle along with — are extrapolated by complication or simplification in our own reading minds, depending on which of these respective propensities are ours to do one or the other.
“: just a sore on the wing;”
SWATCH by Eley Williams
“The halting tongue that dares not tell the whole!”
I dare not contemplate the gestalt. Here, the earlier mis-sharing of sweets to a sister — a to-be-missing sister like that in CD Rose’s Sister as there was such mis-sharing in CWTCH (how often has there been an anthology with two short word titles containing WTCH?) — becomes a stuffing of marshmallows into a mouth as if some sort of trial for the Guinness Book of Records of the most that can be stuffed and still allow the school song to be sung. This happens with two children (both boys this time) playing hide and seek who happen to dive into the same small hiding-place together. Such closeness also causes not only a “hand dipping once again into the marshmallow bag” but contemplating eyes for their rarefied colours with equally rarefied names, and one of their Dads who had a bespoke paint-colour business. Take a cross-section of this story’s gestalt and I promise to be able to reproduce it exactly. But it is better reading it for yourself and for whatever bespoke gestalt it has for you as it did for me so intriguingly, almost secretively. I feel as if I am now moulding this story into an unintentionally mushy shape of meaning, although buying this book did effectively enable me to read it in any fashion I chose! A story unique in such powers of mutual susceptibility, I guess.
THE LAST DARE by Lisa Tuttle
I am afraid I got myself muddled up here, with so much dialogue and two grandmothers and their two grand-daughters who pal up after a surprise meeting after several years for these grandmothers. Streets named after fruit and a Tower House where switching or vanishing in the past seems to have taken place. Seems also a Halloween theme and variations on the two boys who hid together in hide and seek in the previous story – and on the pumpkin in the earlier story about two boys winning the cross-country together.
Sorry, my failing. Or someone dared me?
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/black-static-55/#comment-8530 and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/never-again/
and the book that found me: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/aickmans-heirs/#comment-4605
And replacements: https://weirdmonger.wordpress.com/45-2/
DAZZLE by Iain Robinson
“He could have stumbled, gone under.”
A striking story that crepitates like a painterly kaleidoscope. Lucian bird-watching, walking near the holiday place, with wraparound birds to spot in the text for us. A panoply of Estuary’s dazzle, sheen, shifting sands, some shifting like a river, glimpses, a wreck as if in Alison MacLeod’s ‘calculated drift’ through a dazzle like stained sea-glass … in fact this ‘calculated drift’ concept dawns on me as the Gestalt itself that threads much of this well-storied book, Lucian being watched by one woman, thinking of another, split between them for different reasons, then being watched by himself (it seems to me), not another man, but himself about to rescue himself, but threatening eternal recurrence like Zeno’s Paradox, himself as the original glimpse in a game of (bird)hide and seek – and then switching… cwtching, swatching…
Cf a story called WICH here… encountered a few days later: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/figurehead-carly-holmes/#comment-13354