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.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

"Unthology 4" by Robin Jones and Ashley Stokes (eds) (Unthank Books, 2013)

A twice-yearly magazine with a spine, containing 13 short stories. I read the e-book version, the first e-book I've read. I was using a shared Kindle and hence didn't want to fiddle with the settings, which affected my reading experience - there were fewer words per page than I'm used to, and perhaps in consequence "A Real T.O.A" and "The Laundry Key Complex" felt too long. And I couldn't find a way to easily compare story lengths (the table of contents has no page numbers).

The 13 writers include a Faber novelist, 2 Creative Writing lecturers, a University writer-in-residence, and at least 3 people with Creative Writing degrees. Several have already published books, though for at least one of them it's their first short story.

The website promises "classic slice-of-life well told just as much as the experimental, the shocking and strange". The first few stories are slice-of-life - a man on a beach wonders where his life/marriage went wrong; a woman thinks back to her repressive religious upbringing; a post-apocalyptic (deadly virus) male survivor is asked by a dying old man to look after a baby. There are young couples in a decaying relationships, loners, and youths trying to have relationships who are still living with their parents. Several of the narrators sounded more articulate and expressive than their characterisation might lead one to expect. Of course, this is a literary convention, but the monologing of some of the first person voices drew particular attention to this. "The Angel" (dead body found in garden precipitating family break-up) felt long in parts, though I liked it. I also liked "The murder of crows" (an inversion of "The Birds". It emerges that the main character, who's living with her parents, is blind), and liked most of all Sarah Bower's "Finished" - "Charlotte is finished. She has a mediocre degree from a respectable university in something like history or English literature". Adrian Slatcher's "Cat" has shades of fantasy, though it was well-grounded in realism. The only story I had trouble with was "Administration: An Intern's Guide", though it's refreshingly non-mainstream with surrealism in a range of doses, from phrases like "her bosom throbbing like a faulty massage pillow" to "you're a real dust-buster now, my pygmy groundnut". But there were too many passages that didn't work for me - e.g. "the first rule is to read the small print, while rules one and minus one, respectively are to read the medium and large print".

Other reviews

  • Nick Murray (Sabotage Reviews) (The stories contained within are nearly all magnificent)
  • Andre van Loon (Litro) (The best story in the collection plays on the idea of certainty in life and love. ‘Finished’, by Sarah Bower)
  • Elaine Chew (Short Review) (Interestingly, the more traditional stories seemed to have been offered up by more of the women writers in this collection, while the story offerings by male counterparts have allied themselves with the more surreal ... I could have done with a bit more down-to-earth humour)

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