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.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

"Broken Things" by Padrika Tarrant (Salt, 2007)

More macabre than early Ian McEwan. Like the blurbers, I'm reminded of Angela Carter. This isn't the world of fable or fairytale - when animals talk, you know they're not really talking. In fact no 2 minds seem to be inhabiting the same world - each story's dominated by an individual who's equally at home with Angels and Giros (the latter a UK reference), and who interface with others via essentials - food, housing, and sometimes love. Most stories are in the first person - main characters in the third person usually die. There's quite a lot of death, abandoned babies, thin films on objects, and wings - birds and angels.

The stories are 2-5 pages long, so the language doesn't dawdle. Here's an extract from p.8 - note the fast-cuts and the imagery.

My secret sets off my organs like an expensive brooch, asymmetrical and daring.

When Finn came past today, he didn't see me. I saw him though: he was glistening red and grey and blue; the bones of his face were the soft yellow of piano keys. I saw the jump of his oesophagus as he swallowed, and then I ducked behind a lime tree.

The affair was brief, if you could call it that.

Striking similes abound - the following appear on pages 66-72 - "life-sized plastic cross ... glowing like a jellyfish", "the preacher comes right up to me, closer than a dentist", "There's a woodlouse by my hand stuck on its back like a tiny dead spaceship", "smiling like a rocking horse". These, combined with standard "good observation" ("the floor dirty in a line ... where the cleaner is lazy" (p.68), "one baby shoe that had been lost by someone and found by someone else ... spiked up in the rain on a black set of railings" (p.84) should satisfy the conventional story-reader.

I guess the most poetic piece is "High" (add a few line-breaks and you've got a poem). "Music", "Epiphany", "Nightmare" and "Blade" are weaker. Perhaps by then I was immunized to the style. "Witness" has a fine ending but I'd rather get there in 2 pages than 5. "Love" begins "Once upon a time" and more than any other piece wears the linguistic trappings of fable, though the setting's another Council House, and at the end we get confirmation that we're not in an alternative reality but another private delusion. Eventually, in "Sunset", a mother seems to share a viewpoint with a daughter and there's no reality check at the end.

Reading on, the quality rises again. "Nightswimming" begins with arson "The kitchen was ready for burning, after all those sorry years; I let the stove fulfil its secret ambition. The tea towels were bandage-dry" and ends with a long swim to a city under the ocean - "I didn't have a passport, so I showed them how to make a fox's silhouette with my hands". Again, no reality check at the end, no equivalent of waking the reader up to find it's all a dream. So she's not in the end a Realist, she's a Fabulist too.

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