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, 16 April 2014

"One of us is lying" by Sally Cline (Golden Books, 2013)

16 stories (some shorter than a page) and a radio drama. The acknowledgements occupy 2 pages, showing that publications are spread over 20 years. They're not the kind of publications I've tried to appear in. Many I'm ineligible for anyway. The cover puffs include

  • "Slyly funny and acute" - Salley Vickers
  • "a charming collection" - A.L.Kennedy
  • "Poetic ... with the feel of a classic, Cline enchants with her beautifully-woven words" - Tania Hershman
  • "A beguiling collection of powerful stories" - Romesh Gunesekera
  • "startling, bewildering, provoking, exciting, amusing and challenging .... remarkable and original collection " - Lesley Glaister
  • "delectable ... a deep ... understanding of the human condition" - Katharine McMahon

Amongst those names are some admirable writers who know far more about writing than I ever will.

I didn't take to the style of the first story, "The passenger" - too many sentences beginning with adverbs, and sentences like "I stood immovable watching the woman through a dirty pane. She looked up and caught my inquisitive patronizing gaze. My idle penetration. Her piercing blue eyes with an ancient tired resignation accepted the hostile mixture of curiosity and indifference in mine" (p.2) though it ended well enough. It made her a "prize-winning short story writer".

"The Green bin" is far longer. The story begins "Daisy sat in the small green and white room. For the third time that day she picked up the exercise book that was to do as her diary. There was very little else to do in the small green and white room. Very slowly she started writing, trying to say some of the words aloud as she wrote them. She had a slight stammer" (p.13). Some of the repetition here might not be deliberate - the "to do" for example - but when the first person voice takes over there's intentional repetition in overlapping sentences and repetition of preoccupations. I found the voice inauthentic anyway (too restrained), but in any case I found the looping narrative tiresome.

"Return Match" has passages of info-dump - "Weekends were when Daisy recovered from her job, recovered small fragments of herself. During the weekdays she poured her time and energies into journalism. Bad news was good news. She thrived on public disasters. Being first on the scene was everything. She seldom questioned the value of what she did, and was careful not to discuss it too fully with Nigel who nowadays questioned everything" (p.34). Men tend to be sweet and passive, or evil. There's an insensitive abortion - "The butcher, thinkingly, had put a coil in the massacred body that was again hers." (p.42).

"Sweet Adeline" included another pantomime baddy and some worthwhile dialogue between Greta and Daisy. The main character gives in - "Finally she crumbled, gave up her own writing and her University post and became an underpaid, undervalued publicist for Jerry Angel Productions" (p.53). The inserted biblical quotes helped.

"Remembrance sunday" has a better flow than the previous pieces.

"Eleanor's Castle" covers little new ground. There are more stream-of-conscious short sentences. At times they're telegramese. They're rarely wild. Here are some passages -

  • "Check statements. Own space. Known to be neat. Space out the words. Neaten up thoughts. Relex. Steady the rhythm. Cool the conversation. There is time. It is Lydia who is ill. Lydia who matters. Jake turns up the television next door. Chat over tea and biscuits. Relatively fresh. Biscuits. Biscuit tin lid doesn't fit properly. Dreadful television program" (p.105)
  • "Coffee. Spoon it. Carefully. Measured grains, measured thoughts. Should be no coffee in a Bristol plan kitchen. Should be all shipshape and Bristol fashion. Coffee is a big killer. Leukaemia is a big killer. Thoughts dismissed. Left right, left right, left right. Ten shun. Tension must be paid." (p.112)

There are secret life-styles within marriages of convenience, realigned gender preferences, stories which look like re-writes of earlier stories. Lesley Glaister also writes on the back cover that "Daisy ... recurs, but we soon recognise similar habits and mannerisms in other female characters". Indeed. Similar plots and situations too, though the last few stories tackle slightly different issues - death, age gaps between lovers, etc. Sentences become longer - "Some days the similarity in their strictures led her to confuse their demandingly different personalities" (p.133) - though imagery, vocabulary and description remain somewhat limited, perhaps because of the personae.

The woman in "Fresh Evidence" seems more in control, though she may be over-controlling - "During the Disorderly Days she had tried painstakingly to imprint small patches of perfection upon their bedraggled domesticity" (p.134). A little later, but with similar diction "He begin to hate the order she had ferociously imposed on their rackety existence" (p.135). On p.141 during an unconvincingly worded rant, Nick says "Everyone I meet tells me you are the most interesting, the most remarkable woman they know" (p.141). Well you could have fooled me. Part 3 of "Fresh Evidence" defers identification of the visitor, but only by evasively describing him/her as "the Visitor".

"Cafe Memorial" dumps info, a "tell" that summarises the "show" for us - "How different in character and in style we were. I with my need to plan, or organise, to look ahead, to hurry along. Emily with her desire to hang on, hang about, a desire which turned her talent for indecisiveness into a philosophical way of being" (p.158). And did he know/suspect all the time that she was dead? I felt a bit swindled as a reader.

"Snowstorm" contained a passage that rang untrue; a literary convenience -

"Why wasn't it you? Why did it have to be Charles? Why my father?"
I do not know if she said those words. But I heard them anyway. The words she spoke and the words she did not speak.
" (p.172)

Interleaved between the longer pieces were stories of 1-3 pages none of which worked for me.

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