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, 5 November 2016

"Touch" by Graham Mort (Seren 2010)

21 stories, mostly 10 pages or so long from BBC radio 3, Critical Quarterly, Panurge, London Magazine, etc. My favourites were "Blood from a Stone" (with reservations), "Why I've Always Loved Fishmongers", "The Beauty of Ice" and "The Prince". The rest while not being bad, sometimes read as portraits, mood pieces, or researched pieces set abroad, full of people in the aftermath of a death or separation who are not quite coping. Description is preferred over plot. So many birds appear that when I started a story I was in suspense waiting for them.

  • Here's the start of "A walk in the snow", one of the static, mood pieces - "Snow fell again last night, blowing against the windows, tapping its fingers as we lay huddled up in bed. It fell in huge sweeps. Total. A white anaesthetic dulling the trees and hedgerows" (p.7). Later, "A limestone boulder squats beside the road. It's a skull, brainpan with its huge jaw buried in the earth. It is straining to utterance, holding the speech of centuries. All its thoughts inarticulate or lost. It cannot utter a single syllable for us. Nothing. It is blind to the light that falls around it, that bleaches it day after day, season upon season. It's deaf to the cry of that carrion crow turning on splayed wings above the fields. It's deaf to death, blind to life. Absolute" (p.11). Too poetic for me.
  • "Annik and Serge" - France.
  • "Blood from a Stone" - an expecting couple view a house. We learn about the couple and the visited male. When the couple go home there's a gush of lyricism and birds - "The windscreen wipers dragged a sycamore leaf across the windscreen, tormenting it until it blew away at last ... Down at the river the black and white birds were back, trampling at the water's edge. I can see their bright beaks dipping to the mud and rising again as if they'd been dipped in molten fire"
  • "Travellers" - Minor frustration leads to violence on an innocent victim - "Overheard the wood pigeon cooed. It was insane. Such a calm, clear sound. It was filling him up with heat, with fury"
  • "Daniel" - A widower on an isolated farm has to go out in the snow to kill a fox.
  • "Ducklings" - a bored girl gets a mild telling off, so she goes out and kills a duckling with her bare hands.
  • "The Caretaker" - a newly-separated mother is befriended, protected. Doesn't work for me.
  • "Why I've Always Loved Fishmongers" - I thought the main character might find out that her sister's been keeping a secret too.
  • "Sawmill" - No.
  • "Friday Night" - No.
  • "Mud Bastard" - Better. A frog suffers this time.
  • "Rain" - Another portrait. More rain. More birds.
  • "Resistance" - No.
  • "Finding the Rocking Stone" - I don't think we've had tawny owls before. I thought the ending let the otherwise promising story down.
  • "The Beauty of Ice" - Slightly too "poetic" for my current tastes, but good.
  • "Smokehouse" - Gulls. Another griever who becomes a loner and walks into the sea.
  • "Yusef" - Buzzards, then on p.205 there's mention of meadow pipit, skylark, kestrel and peregrine. A middle-aged couple have a break where long before as a student the husband had a hitch-hiking, physical, boozy time with Yusef, whose pendant he still wore. The present and past storylines alternate. I wasn't keen on the ending - when they get home, the wife "looks as if she's about to cry. "I love you, you know. Whatever you might think" ... Why did she say that? It's as if she knows something about us that even I don't know"
  • "Charcoal Burner" - In a war-torn country a widow gets a ride out of town to give birth in the woods. She finds a man who helps her. A robin, cormorants, a songthrush
  • "Touch" - 2 story lines, this time in sync: one about the husband on an Aid trip to Uganda, the other the wife at home. Given its length and subject matter I think it should have achieved more.
  • "The Lesson" - It begins with a typical burst of scene-setting - "The old man sits on the steps of the white-painted church smoking his first cigarette of the day. His wife has been sick. She can't stand the smell of tobacco smoke in the house any more. Slow light flickers over the surface of the harbour. The blue-and-yellow-painted fishing boats are motionless, hardly moving because the sea is hardly moving. There is still a faint image of last night's moon settling beyond hills of ochre rock with their stubble of pines. The sky is pale, the air thickening under the rising sun. The old man smokes, occasionally tugging at the peak of his faded denim cap. The sun heats the town, soaking into the terracotta roofs, raising the stinking of rotting fish". There's another final walk into the sea.
  • "The Prince" - A girl witnesses the final illness of the boy next door. Lapwings, curlews and oystercatchers.

Other reviews

  • Carys Bray
  • Tony Gilliam (This collection is full of dazzling and convincing writing. There is not, though, much light to contrast with the dreary worlds many of these characters inhabit.)

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