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 23 January 2013

"This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You" by Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury, 2012)

This collection of short (and very short) stories was written over many years. "We Wave And Call" begins "And sometimes it happens like this: " which illustrates his linguistic tendencies - the continuous present; vagueness (use of "something/sometimes"), use of "happens" (the most fundamental of verbs?), and diesis. Childlessness, accidents, pallets and buried bodies prevail. He dwells on the imbalance between brief chance events and the mental revisions they trigger, the unwinding of years that were lived sensibly, rationally. Descriptions (essentially static) of mental states compete with narratives whose purpose is sometimes preparation for a description - pictures at an exhibition. Not all of the pieces work for me, but McGregor remains amongst the UK's most unpredictably interesting and successful writers.

"In Winter The Sky" (30 pages) has a story on the even-numbered pages and notes toward a poem on the odd-numbered pages (except for the first odd-numbered page of prose). The two are roughly in sync - the poem sometimes responds to the prose. The poetry is impressionistic, mostly about light and water in the Fens, and has deletions almost from the start. Later the prose has a few deletions - e.g.

They never had children, and this has
They've never talked about it, and yet

In the prose we read how George, illegally driving home (a farm where he lives with his widowered father) from his first date kills a drunk on an isolated country road. Rather than jeopardize the relationship (which ends in a childless marriage) he buries the body. Years later it is found.

"The Chicken And The Egg" is 5 pages about someone's egg-cracking phobia, the fear of a chick being inside. Here's a paragraph, showing how the author uses detail

Or also he's imagined it happening whilst preparing a fried-egg sandwich. The oil heating in the cast-iron pan. The thick slices of white bread lightly toasted, buttered, and dressed with tomato ketchup. The tea brewing in the pot. Breaking the egg into the pan, looking away for one moment to grab the salt and pepper and then turning back to find it there just as the white begins crackling at the edges. And what would happen then would be the heat having the effect of making the foetal chicken turn over in the pan, or just twitch slightly. It would create an illusion, is what he thinks.

In "That Colour" (2 pages) is the narrator blind?

"Fleeing Complexity" is a single 10-word sentence. "Song" comprises 13 words (2 sentences).

In "French Tea" (4 pages) a cafe worker is waiting to close up but a customer's going on about how to make a good cup of tea.

"Supplementary Notes To The Testimony" is in the form of a legal document. Set in 2027?

Two stories are wife-PoV views of a gently unfulfilling marriage with a vicar.

"The Remains" is 3 pages of sentences about the state of a body. Over 50% of the sentences are "Have yet to be found". Amongst them are sentences like "Will not bring her back".

"The Last Ditch" is a fairly technical report about a few people preparing for some post-apocalypse scenario. The endnotes, written by an informer or the secret service, comment on the report.

"Memorial" is 6 pages of place names.

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