Stride Magazine - www.stridemagazine.co.uk
old-fashioned to new-fangled
HOW DO YOU SPELL BL…GH? by Ian Robinson
[92pp, £7.95, Redbeck Press, 24 Aireville Road, Frizinghall, Bradford BD9 4HH]
WAREHOUSE edited by Ian Daley
[224pp, £6.95, Route, School Lane, Glashoughton, West Yorks, WF10 4QH)
COMMA edited by Ra Page
[176pp, £9.95, Comma Press, distributed by Carcanet Press]
And how do you pronounce ‘Bl…gh’ and when use it? When none too chuffed, that’s what, though a charitable soul may assure the reader that these three collections run the gamut of the short story. Well, yes: from old-fashioned to new-fangled, although not if you happen to believe that this genre, at its best, is the finest writing.
Ian Robinson waxes and wanes with the everyday, the surreal and the poetic, though he has an assured hand, creating a strange, claustrophobic world with an inkling of wit: Albina’s ‘purple tulle bag encrusted with silver-plated scorpions’. Challenging would be a good summing-up, except if you fail to come to any reasonable conclusion, it makes whole thing rather irritating: its unfinished air, a cast of thousands (or recurrent names, characters being vaguely drawn) and the repetition of imagery. ‘Histoire Nouvelle’ cheerfully combines chunks of research; statistics; an index, but the 21 sections of ‘Intermittent Light’ tiptoe towards convention, soap opera romance with a soupçon of French cinema. The illustrations don’t help (why two artists?), at worst resembling something from a Janet and John book.
Warehouse appears to be the writing down of favourite tales from people at ‘the bottom end of the labour market’, and sometimes writing up, so the autobiographical rubs shoulders with stories which thoughtlessly fall prey to a twist in the tale. And there’s a CD; nice music, shame about the lyrics, entirely appropriate for the stories. One of the most interesting aspects, perhaps inadvertent, is the contrast between the brash, in-yer-face, totally lacking in self-awareness view of those who left school asap, and the earnest, self-conscious student take. Hard to say which is worse (caught between a metaphor and a cliché) but both of them commonplace; insufficient characterization, description, insight. Nothing much to suggest you’ll gain anything by reading this little lot.
Comma presents a mixed bunch, aiming for urban tension I guess, and ending up with egg on its face, curate’s egg at that because there is some good stuff here, which shows up the bad. Naturally, I was determined to dislike the offering from Anthony Wilson, and he did not disappoint; competent but complacent. Politics’ gain, Art’s loss. Poetry bequeaths a head start to writers like David Constantine, Amanda Dalton and Michael Symmons Roberts, and a nice touch of the sinister from Shelagh Delaney, Clare Pollard and Emma Unsworth, who can take the ordinary and slice it to a jagged edge. Just a cut above comes Paul Morley with ‘Decision Time’, a dialogue for which I’ll risk the appellation Beckettian. Then, head and shoulders: Gerard Woodwards’ ‘Golden Boys’, ushering you into a weird and wonderful setting entirely of his own creation, sinister as Kafka and witty as all get-out.
Experimental has its place, and if at the forefront, then no room for trickery and/or trendy, which cancel out the hard earned description of ‘timeless’. Haven’t Irving Walsh and The Streets said/sung it all? Yeah, yeah, gritty realism, but no getting away from the fact that for people leading lives of desperation, quiet or raucous, work (or none) and family, sex n drugs n rock n roll, life is deadly monotonous, and so is reading about it. Memorable fiction? Let me just consult my notes here… not really.
© Carole Baldock 2003