Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Books - Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

This is a novel I keep hearing people talk about. It’s a mix of crime thriller and complex psychological literary experiment – a strange combination that works. Our narrator is Maud, an eighty-two year old woman with dementia, who realises she hasn’t seen her friend Elizabeth for quite some time. Still haunted by the disappearance of her sister almost seventy years ago, Maud latches onto the apparent disappearance of her friend. The novel then gives us an interweaving narrative both of Maud at eighty-two and of Maud at sixteen or so (I presume) when her sister disappeared.

With the exception of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen (which I reviewed a few weeks ago), Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is probably the most moving thing I’ve read in the last year. Healey narrates Maud’s dementia and increasing forgetfulness in a really tender and touching way. They are some brilliant details. Whether from films and real life we’re very used to the image of an elderly person not quite recognising their relations, their own children, or maybe forgetting where they live – but it’s the internal details I found particularly moving. There are moments when Maud forgets the words for certain objects. In her mind and narration a bath is not a ‘bath’ but a ‘cooking pot for humans’; cigarettes become ‘the things you light up’, and umbrellas are ‘shield’s from the rain. It’s makes the prose more authentic, and the story more poignant.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Short Stories – Unthology 6, compiled by Unthank Books

Ah, how I love a good short story anthology – and the latest one from Unthank Books, Unthology 6, is no exception. I may have to get my hands on the previous five to have a look. This collection has everything from poignant realism to more experience and speculative pieces. The variety is wonderful. There’s love, grief, family, drugs, aging, psychological experiments, minor stalking and uncontrollable nasal hair. And references to Dickens. What more could you ask for?

It would take me a great mass of words to review every story in collection, so I’ve done the time test I often like to do with short story anthologies: three weeks after I finished reading it, which stories most stick in my head? The first to come to mind, that’s been going round in my brain since I read it, is ‘The Girl’ by Victoria Hattersley, in which the narrator’s quiet life of video games and commuting is lit by the girl he sees at his station every day. It’s a brilliant story, carefully written and deeply enthralling. I don’t know if the ending is chilling or innocently poignant. That, I think, is what I most like about this story, the ambiguity that hangs over it, that fact you can’t quite make out the narrator. It’s a great and truly powerful story, the kind you don’t stop thinking about after you’ve read it.

I also enjoyed the less conventional stories in this collection. There’s Alexandros Plasatis’ ‘The Story with Yuliya Has a Bad Ending’, told in the form of a monologue, as a man rambles to a bartender. It’s funny, somewhat chilling, and very cleverly pulled off. Robert Anthony’s ambiguous ‘Shadows’ is brilliantly unsettling and Jonathan Pinnocks ‘Hay. ee. Ah. Wrist.’ is distressingly funny and somewhat horrific – in the very best of ways.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Books – Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

I have tried (and I think succeeded) to only review twenty-first century literature on this blog, in keeping with my endeavours to break free from the beautiful clasps of my old favourite, Victorian Literature. However, every now and then an exception must be made. When I read this pair of novellas a couple of weeks ago, I decided there was no way I could not review them. They’re too thoroughly beautiful. And at least this week’s review is of a book written in the 1980s, so I’m not going too far back.

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, a book featuring two novellas – ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Moonlight Shadow’ – was published in Japan in 1987 and translated into English in 1993. Both stories deal with essentially similar themes – love, loss, family, transsexuality, solitude and above all grief.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Books – All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman

Although it was published back in 2003, All My Friends Are Superheroes is a book I keep hearing about recently. It’s a sort of humorous love story with a touch of magic realism, and a touch of something truly wonderful. And, I think, lovely. That’s the main way I’d describe this book. It’s just lovely. Its central character is Tom, an ordinary young man. Ordinary, that is, apart from the fact that all his friends are superheroes. Although of course, if all your friends are superheroes and being a superhero is the norm, not being a superhero is out of the ordinary.

At his wedding to the Perfectionist (whose superpower is the ability to make everything perfect), her ex-boyfriend Hypno hypnotises Perf so that she can no longer see Tom. He becomes completely invisible to her. The book then follows Tom’s attempts to try and make his existence known to her, while she deals with the grief of his disappearance. Meanwhile we’re introduced to the rest of the superheroes in Tom’s life.