Fast-talking, foul-mouthed, Jimmy runs a record shop in Belfast, selling weed on the side to help bring in the cash. He’s the type of character that could be hard and dark but, written by Simon Maltman, he comes across as someone I think I might actually want to meet.
I don’t know as much about him as I should as I haven’t read the first book in this series of novellas (book two is only 47 pages long), but what I do know, I like because he’s sharp and funny, even when the police are breathing down his neck as they are in Bongo Fury 2.
The Language of Dying is one of those books I saw at the library and picked up for he cover alone. Then I realised it was written by Sarah Pinborough, who I haven’t read but I know has written other books other bloggers have loved. I had high hopes, hopes which were originally met – at least for the first half of the short book (it’s only 131 pages).
It starts with a woman – whose name we never get to know (or if we did, I missed it) – sitting by the bed of her dying father. She is alone, thinking back over her life and how she has ended up where she is, and waiting for her brothers and sisters to arrive to say their final goodbyes.
I found this bit so well written and the language, whilst it might have been about dying, was beautiful. The thoughts going through the woman’s head, her inner monologue as her family arrives and she thinks back on their childhood and move into adulthood and how, somewhere along the way, it all went wrong for them, completely drew me in. I was convinced that I had found a perfect book for me.
I’m not normally one for Christmas stories I have to admit but a short story by P. J. Tracy (who writes the Monkeewrench series, which I love) was too good to pass by.
Unlike her other books, this one isn’t set in Minnesota but in Las Vegas, where Emil – a not very good thief – is given the choice of returning to jail for two years after breaking the conditions of his probation, or, work for a year on a community programme.
He chooses the latter, only to find himself in what seems worse than prison – a psychiatric hospital, where he finds himself mopping the floors and helping the patients; he starts to look for a way to escape almost as soon as he arrives.
The Goodreads summary for The Relive Box by T. C. Boyle starts by describing it as a collection of “raucous” short stories. To me, raucous means rowdy, which didn’t quite fit. So, out came the dictionary, which says that – in fact – raucous means “making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise”, and this makes a lot more sense because one of the words I had written down after finishing the book and was preparing for my review was disturbing.
I also wrote down dark, cold and depressing; there is little in these stories that could be described as hopeful – maybe the end of Are We Not Men?, which left me feeling somewhat optimistic . The rest, if I’m honest, left me feeling depressed. The world they present, which is probably our not to distant future if we don’t play our cards right, isn’t one I want to live in.
How Much the Heart Can Hold is a collection of seven short stories on love, written by seven different authors. I wanted to read it because they were short stories, which are one of my favourite things to read; I was nervous to read it because it had love in the title, and love stories are not one of my favourite things.
In the introduction, this reaction is one the editor says she is used to, this expectation that the stories will be on romantic love. She is quick to stress that this isn’t the case. Instead, the inspiration behind this collection comes from the Ancient Greek’s idea of love and that there are different aspects to it: familial love, charitable, passion and desire, love of self amongst them. That the book looks at love from these angles makes the stories much more interesting that they might first appear.
Walter Craig was a clever scientist. As a young man he took away all the honours and prizes and some of his work was ground-breaking. But after he became seriously ill, his genius faded, and he needed the help of an assistant. When Silas Webb was appointed to the job he seemed the perfect choice, but he always preferred to work alone, even in secret. Then, quite suddenly, Webb disappeared.
Later, Craig opens a prestigious scientific journal and finds a paper, containing his own work, in detail, together with the significant results he had worked out. The research is his and his alone. But the author of the paper is Dr Silas Webb.
Craig determines that he will hunt Webb down and exact revenge.
Were it not for a terrifying twist of circumstance, he might have succeeded.
So begins the first of four short ghost stories by Susan Hill, something I have been looking forward to reading as the nights have drawn in and with Halloween not far away. I love a good spooky story and a good old fashioned scare and Hill has always been able to manage both where I am concerned with stories like The Small Hand and The Woman in Black.
Here, all the ingredients that make those stories so successful are there. The “old school” style of story telling, the simple language that lulls you into a false sense of security, the slowly building tension as you realise not all is what it seems – leaving you wanting to read on but worried that if you do, you’ll end up lying awake listening for things that go bump in the night.
After finishing The Girls by Emma Cline this week, I felt a bit bereft. I really hadn’t wanted the book to end. I had seen on Goodreads that she had a short story, Marion, so thought I would try and find it. I was in luck. A quick google found it available online in The Paris Review. You can read it here if you are interested. The story was the winner of the Plimpton Proze and I can see why. There is a lot packed into very few pages (one of the reasons I love short stories when they are done well).
Although there isn’t a direct link to The Girls, there are themes that are similar. A young teenage girl makes friends with a slightly older girl, escaping to her unconventional home because her own home life isn’t that happy. For her, though, it is more than friendship, it’s liked being saved…
“Marion was my first best friend. I never had the framed photos that girls like to give each other. I had never worn friendship bracelets, or even hated anyone else with another girl. My life seemed like something new and unasked for, Marion smiling at me in the sunshine, letting me wear her woven ankle bracelet for days at a time, braiding my hair that had grown colorless and thick, full of dust and the peculiar smell of heat.”
They spend the summer lazing, smoking, drinking and obsessing on boys – one in particular- thinking and behaving like they are older than they are. But they are still teenagers, still discovering themselves and still not really aware how the real world actually works. It leads to them making terrible choices, turning the story darker, and ends their friendship.
Again, I got completely lost in the language and the story. I really like the way Emma Cline writes, the way she draws me in with descriptions that make me feel the heat of the summer, the loneliness of being a teenage girl, and the angst of not quite knowing your place in the world. I already recommended The Girls as a read earlier this week but for those not sure this is an excellent introduction or taster of what is to come.