Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 25 March 2003

"How do you spell" by Ian Robinson (Redbeck Press, 2002)

As mainstream markets dry up where can short-story writers go? Into genres such as Horror? Or follow the excellent David Almond into children's fiction? These 9 stories by a small-press stalwart have appeared in 13 publications; amongst them London Magazine but the majority are rather "avant-garde". In the name of realism Modernist stories tend to eschew single-threaded narrative, tidy endings, and the idea that words are transparent, thus making the text appear more artificial. Robinson's stories are episodic with many of the main events happening between episodes. They fragment into passages like know them by heart the face in the tower whose was it though the loft with pigeon shit and the water rising and rising not me though. These ploys are used with restraint so shouldn't scare away readers. What might prove more tiring is the general lack of tension and narrative drive. It's a world of tableaux rather than animation. Indeed the only mentions of transport are a bus station and a broken car. Rooms, deserted beaches and more rooms predominate.

Early on we read "It could be said that normally nothing very startling went on in Edward's head". Edward's not unique. All the main characters are male, unassertive, childless, and seem to live in multi-occupier dwellings. If they have jobs we rarely know their profession. They like watching the paths of drops of sweat or rain. They worry about the inadequacy of words (one even worries about boring the reader) resorting to painting as a way to communicate with people; invitations to see paintings end up as sexual advances.

Intermittent Light is my favourite piece - here traditional assets (observation, rounded characters and expectation) combine successfully with New Wave cinematic techniques. The title story works well too. Elsewhere the repetition of themes and images brings diminishing returns - the language doesn't quite shoulder its extra responsibilities.

Should prose writers flock to avant-garde publications? I doubt it; the market's saturated there too, but the mainstream could be enriched by the judicious adoption of some currently marginal techniques such as those presented in this collection which, when all's said and done, is a worthwhile read in small doses and a welcome reminder that there's more to the short story genre than books by Jeffrey Archer (or even A.L. Kennedy) might suggest.

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