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, 18 October 2017

"The Boy Who Could See Death" by Salley Vickers (Viking, 2015)

She writes in the "Author's Note" that "People who have read my novels will recognize in this collection some familiar themes: most distinctively the interplay between life and death ... they may also recognize my preoccupation with place" (p.ix)

She likes pathetic fallacy (the kind that makes me wince) -

  • A heron stood staring aloofly into the water (p.7)
  • the open box greeted her balefully (p.8)
  • a swarm of apparently violently angry bees (p.29)
  • their house, now woefully empty of Mr Lynch (p.78)

The anonymous narrators can be intrusive in a samey way

  • but Francesca ... was blood, which was said to be thicker than water (if not obviously the better for that) (p.12)
  • they let each other alone, which is the unsung secret of a good deal of human happiness (p.32)
  • And with this concealment, as is the way, came other suppressions of spontaneity (p.79)

I liked the plot of the title story, and several of its episodes. I don't like how it begins -

Eli was not quite seven years old when he discovered that he was different. But perhaps 'different' was not at the time, at least, the right word. For all that time, in most ways, he was a quite ordinary child, with the common traits, good and bad, and many in between, that ordinary little boys will have.
But in one important respect he differed from the ordinary

"A Sad Tale" begins verbosely too, with "The boy knew there was something wrong. He always knew at once when anything was not altogether right with his mother, but on this occasion it was an unnerving sense that with his father things were not as they should be.". Is that first sentence needed?

"The Train That Left When It Was Not Supposed To" was interestingly different, and generally the story lines kept me reading. There were too many heavy-handed lapses though - e.g. the last story ends with They were both wrapped in towels, so it would have been hard to say quite why it was obvious to him that beneath the towels they were naked ... smiling a smile which, he was later to see, was only one of a long chain of smiles that had, oh, so finely and deftly, wrought his exclusion ... her mysterious little half-smile.

Other reviews

  • Kate Kellaway
  • Andrew Wilson
  • Matilda Bathurst (While her more fanciful narratives have proved successful in novels, as short stories they’re reduced to mere whimsy. With no time to convince the reader of their sincerity, tales of wolfmen and well-bred kleptomaniacs become either gratuitously batty or painfully predictable)

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tim

    I'm guessing that she has never attended an Arvon course! The other day I noticed that all my poetry on the internet has now been pirated. The good news is that it has been downloaded many thousands of times and most readers have awarded me five stars out of five. So overall I'm not too distraught about the situation.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish