I enjoyed Angela Readman’s short story Don’t Try This At Home when I shadowed the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. Although I didn’t pick it as my winner, I can say 2 years on, that it is the only story of the 6 that I remember. Not hard to do, this tale of a woman cloning her man, by slicing him in half every time she needs more from him, is pretty unforgettable, and is now the lead story in Readman’s first published collection. The story in which she won the Costa Short Story Award in 2014, The Keeper of the Jackalopes, is also included here.
Mixing the everyday with the fantastical, this is a collection to whizz through. By turns sad (the girl condemned to be a circus freak, the club-footed hunchback sent to live with the witch in the wood); by turns quirky and macabre (nothing more so than the lead title); by turns thought-provoking (just how would you react if a homeless old woman knew everything about you?). Always entertaining and very visual. You don’t read this pages, you watch them. No better way to expose the prejudices at the heart of many of these tales. Give me more!
Ivan Vladislavíc’s 101 Detectives could be a much more intellectual exercise. I’ll quote for a moment from the dustjacket. “Each story can be read as just that – a story – or you can dig a little deeper. take a closer look, examine the artifact from all angles and consider the clues and patterns contained within”.
I’ll save all that for a reread because first time through I was too busy enjoying myself. I wouldn’t say that every story hit the spot but the majority did. I loved the twist in the tail of the 101 Detectives, the dismount of the corporate ladder in Exit Strategy (was I meant to LOL reading this?) and the utter absurdity of the Industrial Theatre caused by the launch of the Ford Kafka. (As you can imagine lots of intertextuality to admire here!)
My favourite stories came towards the end; The Reading which charts the breakdown of the translator, as the author reads a harrowing account of her past, and The Trunks – A Complete History in which a dead man’s papers are retained for years by one hoarder after the next in the vain hope that a) they will be read and b) turned into a biography.
I recognise all the arguments but they have yet to subscribe wholeheartedly with the message of Claude’s trunks:
They were more than a warning about a debilitating fascination with the leavings of one life …… They were a prophecy of the distasteful end that awaits all those who set too much store by the written word. The pointlessness of paper.
Regardless, this collection has got me thinking and excited. Not at the prospect of the amount of paper material I will discard once the logic has permeated my brain cells, but at the amount of pleasure to come. Vladislavíc, although new to me, is an established multi-award winning South African author. & Other Stories publish a number of his novels, including The Restless Supermarket. Who can resist a title like that? Not me.