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, 25 May 2019

"The sing of the shore" by Lucy Wood (4th Estate, 2018)

None of the writing's heavy-handed. The age, gender and name of the main character is disclosed late if at all. Children seem very grown up. Siblings/best-friends are temporarily replaced by newcomers. The characters don't reveal much. The elements fill the resulting void - dogs bark in the distance, sand gets everywhere, winters are harsh.

I wasn't keen on the shorter pieces. Most of the longer stories are well worth a read, their final sentence often alluding to the theme which is often to do with transience/permanence.

  • Home Scar - 3 kids (11 or 14 years old; about to go to the big school) break into vacant houses on the coast line. I like the dialogue, the description of the scenery. It's 3rd person, closest to Ivor, whose dad's a bit useless. There are many similes, not all successful, though I like the first of the following three examples -
    • "The week billowed and sagged around them, like a tent that might stay up, or might at any moment collapse" (p.2)
    • "Their footprints crossed the beach, sloppy as leftover cereal" (p.4)
    • "the cliff was slumped and worn, the rock underneath pale as a shinbone" (p.11)
    Sometimes the narrator intercedes - "His eyes looked glassy and far away. Who knew what thoughts were teeming" (p.17). Who indeed.
    At the end they try staying the night in a house, planning to leave hardly a trace of their stay. "Ivor finally caught up with his own breath. His hand touched against Crystal's hand and he tried to make it mean that he would miss her when she wasn't there. Even though he didn't know if you could say that just with hands" (p.26)
  • The Dishes - Jay (3rd person, from his PoV) looks after the baby while Lorna (who does the same job as Crystal's mother) works. The couple see little of each other. She says nothing in the story, and the baby can only babble, echoing noises from next door. Desperate for words, he listens to the noises and voices from next door, a house he'd thought empty. He sneaks into their garden to peer through a window. All he hears, finally, is "Going." At the end he notices that their door's ajar. As he goes in holding the baby, the phone rings. The house seems uninhabited, like the couple's relationship.
    More similes, the most successful being "the mist pressed against the window from the sea, wet and dripping like bedding on a line" (p.27)
  • Dreckly - 1st person female narrator plus Freya and Joey (all 26 years old, all casual workers) are metal detecting when the tide's especially low, looking for fabled treasure. The narrator, parted from others, finds a part-buried metal box, but because the tide's coming in fast, she buries it. She's unable to find it subsequently.
    There's a lot about people acting through habit rather than reason, most significantly "people get certain ideas in their heads about you, and they never let you forget them. After a while, you find yourself doing exactly what they expect because mostly it's just easier" (p.56).
    More similes, my favourite one this time being "She just sat there watching [her dog] with that dopey expression she gets - as if the dog were her kid performing Shakespeare" (p.27)
  • One Foot in Front of the Other - Shortest so far - less than 7 pages. Someone who doesn't know how long they've been walking and who just wants to get back repeatedly crosses fields, hears frightening sounds and encounters threatening cows.
  • Way the Hell Out - Another short one. Mostly unattributed speech. It's not a new plot idea, so I don't get the point.
  • Salthouse - 1st person (female, though that's not clear until later). The narrator, Evie, and Gina have just started secondary school. As they drag an xmas tree to contribute to a coastal defences project they reminisce. Passing a fair, they decide to go in. They meet a teacher from their old school. Evie goes off with a boy. Evie's alone. As the teacher's about to discover Gina with the boy, Evie's last milk tooth dramatically comes out, causing a distraction. Evie wins Gina back and they continue to the dunes alone. I guess the story's about not wanting to let go of childhood. At the end, the sand never changes.
  • Flotsam, Jetsam, Lagan, Derelict - 3rd person. Mary's PoV. Mary and Vincent have retired to a cliff-top house. Mary becomes obsessed with clearing the beach of debris. She begins to lose track of time. She twists her ankle on one of her beachcombing treks. The garage then the living room seem to be full of rubbish. Then Vincent sees a washed-up shipping container. "I thought it was going to be different," Mary says. Theme: The onset of dementia - litter as an analogy for aging.
  • The Life of the Wave - the 2nd-person main character (first as an infant, finally as a father-to-be) charts the son-father relationship episodically using his father's surfing obsession as a theme. Though the son dislikes surfing he goes surfing with his father after learning he's going to be a father too.
  • Standing Water - An extended grudge between neighbours. Didn't work for me.
  • A Year of Buryings - A list by the month of ghosts, regrets, last thoughts, what the dead are remembered for.
  • Cables - The worst so far.
  • The Sing of the Shore - Bryce (3rd person. His PoV) visits sister Kensa at the campsite where they grew up. They're both about 40. It's run-down, about to be sold. Kensa's living in a caravan. All isn't well with her, though there are no details. Bryce puts up a tent. "The fields had barley in them, which moved in the wind like muscles under a horse's back" (p.186). There's a parallel time-line comprising flashbacks of when they were 9 (Bryce) and 12, when a 17 year-old, Nate, camped alone for a while then disappeared. Kensa had liked him, wanting to search in dangerous caves for him. At the end of the story Bryce leads Kensa to the caves. He goes in, gets lost, and she's about to find him.
  • By-the-Wind Sailors - Having survived a fire in their flat, Ruby (seamstress), Nathan (odd-job man) and daughter Lacey move into a caravan on a cliff. Then they're chucked out. They move from summer-house to shared-house to B&B, then back to the caravan - "A single hotplate that is theirs and theirs alone is a sudden luxury, a miracle even" (p.222). Then a cottage, then a flat above a shop, then a winter-let. And so on until they're back at the same caravan. At the end "The sand martins come back to nest in the crumbling cliffs" (p.222). So the theme is Re-possession (by land-lords, and by returning families).

Other reviews

  • Caroline Crampton (Unlike Wood’s first collection, Diving Belles, which was a series of dispatches from a fairytale land that bore traces of Angela Carter, these stories are set in a world we recognise. However, a kind of eerie tension lingers like background static, skilfully deployed to transform apparently benign tales into heart-thumping miniature thrillers. There’s an uncanny, delicate quality to much of Wood’s prose that belies how difficult this kind of writing is to pull off.)
  • Helen Parry (The empty houses, faces at windows and mouldy caravans that throng Wood’s stories undermine the idea of home as a place of shelter and identity. ... The stories are interconnected, sometimes by characters, sometimes by images or phrases, sometimes by theme; and they reflect and enrich each other.)
  • Jennifer Edgecombe
  • Ross Jeffery
  • Judy Birkbeck (There is great variety of style in this haunting collection, whether detached or personal, told in the second person or simply a series of vignettes of all those who have died in one year in ‘A Year of Buryings’)

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