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.

Sunday 14 July 2013

"Singing a man to death" by Matthew Francis (Cinnamon, 2012)

12 stories, the shortest 8 pages long. There are first, second, and third person pieces, the main characters often female. The settings are medieval and modern, the locations spanning continents. The only prevailing trait I noticed was mention of the power of song. In the title story music makes its first appearance

When you put on a record, assuming you do it right and don't jab your stylus down in the middle of a track, there is first no sound at all and then the sound of amplified silence. That can last as long as thirty seconds, rather pleasurable ones usually, in which you prepare yourself to listen. You find out also at this stage whether the recording is old and likely to be scratched or not (p.17)

It's later used as a simile

Jessie probably looked on her house as a sort of record, one that endlessly replayed to her all the mess and clumsiness that was lived in it (p.19)

I wasn't convinced by "American Fugue". "The Lovers" seemed to change genre (which is fine); it ended "Everyone knows fifteen-year-old boys don't have bicycle accident. At fifteen, the only thing that can kill you is love". I need to read it again. I thought "Demonland" was fine. "Between the walls" has 4 sequential first-person voices. "Green winter" didn't appeal. "Sleevenotes" was great fun - 8 attempts to write a 500-word sleevenote - part pretentious Melody Maker, part Nick Hornby. "The Vegetable Lamb" had me struggling again. "Edward's Garden" has an ending whose point I've missed (maybe it's something to do with the dualism mentioned on p.111). I wasn't sure which way "Beehive" would go - Gothic? Like "Demonland" it alluded to computing - "'What language is it anyway?' 'It's C' 'What's that?' 'The language that comes after B'" (p.127). "Cargo" is partly in Pidgin, partly about cargo cults and religions.

The final, longest story, "Assassin", reminded me of Jim Crace's style. Using the second person it mentions Paradise, "Angels", and escaping obligations. It starts with "Suppose you had to kill someone". Later, as the mission is described, we told that "At least you will not be alone. Beside you, as you wait, is your companion, who seems confident, untroubled by doubts, everything you are not". Both you and the companion are called Ali, reinforcing the idea that they are aspects of the same persona. At the end there's speculation about what would happen if the assassin changed his mind - "You could become farmers, marrying a couple of local girls, pretend you had always lived there./ But after all there is no supposing about it. You know who you are. You know what you have to do.". The use of the "you" (rather than "I" or "he") means that both Alis can be referred to. It also speaks directly to the reader.

The collection made me realise how naturalistic and contemporary I've become.

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