Before I go on to give you a rundown on my reading for Thursday 6th May, I should declare that I’m writing this on Saturday 8th, a full day later than when I should be writing it up, and indeed posting it. I’m sure you know what it like though fellow reader, all the non-bookish/blogging things seem to join together and conspire against you, stopping you from getting your work done, and that’s what’s happened in this case. However, they say better late than never though, so better late than never, here’s a rundown on Thursday’s reading.
Determined to organise my short story reading a lot better than I have been of late, I’ve begun to designate more specific days for specific reading. So far this week the plan’s worked out well – as this week’s other journal entries would suggest – and today was no different. Thursday for the time being, is now my day for concentrating on my William Trevor vs. Lorrie Moore reading project; a project which will eventually reveal to me (I hope) which of the two authors is the more Chekhovian in their short story writing. So with it being Thursday that meant the day started with a short story from both Trevor and Moore.
First up was the William Trevor short, which comes from Penguin’s tome-like William Trevor: The Collected Stories. The story in question is the wonderfully titled, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake, a story which follows our narrator Mike as he sets out on an unexpected day of socialising with his friend Sawnn and two female companions, Margo and Jo. Single but obsessed with a woman called Lucy, Mike’s day soon becomes dominated by a need to phone the beloved Lucy at every opportunity he can. His efforts are hindered (and sometimes helped), by one of the female companions, Margo, who’s adamant that today is the day that Mike is going to take on the role of personal marital councillor, helping her with a problem that she has with her husband Nigel.
Now, if only this story were as exquisite as its title would suggest, then it would have been a great tale. However, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake turned out for me to be one the dullest and most disengaging William Trevor short stories I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading (Wow Rob, and you being such a great Trevor fan? I know! I’m devastated :)). I found the storyline for this one to be largely pointless and uneventful, the characters flat and uninteresting, and for once I left the scene of a William Trevor reading feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Unusual because I usually come away uplifted from a William Trevor reading. But sadly, not this time! Story Rating:
Moving swiftly on and the Lorrie Moore story for the day, from Faber’s equally tome-like Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories was Escape from the Invasion of the Love-Killers. Thankfully this story did match up a little better in relation to the promise that its title set up for it. The story follows Gerald Maine aerobics teacher of pre-schoolers and his attempts to get on more intimate terms with his friend who lives across the hallway, Benna, a somewhat glitzy nightclub singer.
Now, I’ve probably made this one sound like a gigolo vs. tart kind of story but Moore is a much more clever writer than that. The story, even given its short length, is a lot deeper; a more contemplative affair with loneliness, wanting and the value of children being the main themes of exploration. The story also comes with most of the most inventive and entertaining things I’ve ever read in description of a new-born baby:
Once you’ve seen a child born you realise a baby’s not much more than a reconstituted ham and cheese sandwich. Just a little anagram of you and what you’ve been eating for nine months.
Hehe..isn’t that a remarkable way to look at babies? I think it is and it marks the real highlight of this story for me; a story which is definitely readable but in all honesty, nothing overly outstanding. Story Rating:
I’ve got admit, when I first read today’s story offering from Arab writing anthology Beirut39 – an extract from the novel Skin of Shadow by Algerian writer Abderrazak Boukebba – I didn’t really take it in. Reading more as a story of Islamic myth, it is only when one slows down to take in the detail, that one is confronted with an exquisite piece of writing. The extract (which reads as an encapsulate whole), offers a glimpse into the life of Dhiab – one of youngsters of the village, Awlad Jahish. Dhiab is the only one of the village youths who has refused to swear an oath that he will never leave the village, and protect it and its survival from rival tribes. Despite bringing on the anger of the village elders, Dhiab is adamant in his decision, and it soon becomes clear that he has good reason.
Mythical, enchanting and wholly written in the style of Islamic tradition, this extract from Skin of Shadow fails only in being too short. I can hope with every cell in my cell in my body that this novel will one day be published in English. Story Rating:
*note: You can an interview with Abderrazak Boukebba (both in English and Arabic), over at the Beirut39 blog.
And so I came to what could potentially be the most amazing, or the most disastrous story in Gaiman & Sarrantonio’s upcoming anthology Stories (Headline), The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. Scribed by the storymeister himself Gaiman, it was interesting to discover just how well the man could measure up to his own brief, of delivering a short story that stretches the boundaries of imaginative fiction. As an incredible storyteller I was confident that Gaiman was going to live up to the expectation, but there’s always that little inkling of doubt, especially when the first three stories in the anthology are all bordering on the sublime. Surely Neil Gaiman isn’t going to make it four exceptional short stories in a row, is he?
Well, I’m happy to report that The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is yet another story of breathtaking originality and quality; one that kept me riveted until the last sentence. The story focuses on the journey of a dwarf and his guide Calum MacInnes, as they set off across the rugged Scottish landscape in search of a treasure cave on a mysterious Scottish isle. It all sounds straight forward enough doesn’t it? But don’t believe a word of it. If you know Gaiman then you know that his storytelling is far from straightforward. This story twists and turns like a path going up a rugged Scottish mountainside, which you’ll also know if you’ve ever walked on one, is unrelenting in its turns yet supremely exhilarating.
Ever since reading The Graveyard Book, I’ve considered Neil Gaiman to be an extraordinary story teller, and this story only reinforces that belief. With regards to his contribution to this anthology in particular, Gaiman shows that he very much practices what he preaches. Story Rating:
::Friday’s reading plans::
Although I was planning on designating Friday’s as the day for catching up on my Fifty-Two Stories short story reading (plus reading shorts from a couple of other online portals), I’ve decided to use the rest of the week to crack on with my reading of this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist. With only six days left until the overall Prize winner is announced (Thursday May 13th), and having two and two-thirds of the shortlist still left to read (Ekk! :)), I’m cutting things a bit fine on this one, and I want to dedicate all of my reading time to catching up.
As far as my reading of the Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist goes, I’ve another important thing to add. You may remember that I’m currently on Julia Franck’s novel, The Blind Side of the Heart (Harvill Secker)? Well, in all honesty it’s doing my head in. I’m taking too long to read it. Why? I’m not sure, but the complete absence of speech marks isn’t helping at all (don’t you just hate it when authors try to be overly clever :)). So to stop me stalling any more, I’m putting the Franck novel to one side for a couple of days and moving on to the next one on the shortlist, Chowringhee by Sankar (Atlantic Books). This was a difficult short-term decision to make – especially when it takes me away from one of my favourite translator’s Anthea Bell – but I think it’s for the greater good. I only hope I’ll be able to connect with Franck’s novel a lot more readily when I get back to it.