Grief’s Sudden Grip

L’Anglaise by Helen E. Mundler: Holland House Books, 2018

It’s not easy being difficult.

The language of families is often confusing. Ella is a successful British academic based in Strasbourg who, following her father’s death, takes a sabbatical to finally start writing her first book. Attempting to tell her mother’s story based on remembered snippets, she chips away at the polished version of events to uncover the harrowing reality. Her distant parents happened to reside under the same roof but rarely communicated, living separate lives within their outwardly prim London townhouse. Life stories intertwine as Ella attempts to make sense of the present by translating the past and exploring what home really means to her.

Intimacy is elusive to Ella. Her late father, Hugo, conversed like an automaton leading to constant misunderstandings. Close in blood ties but little else, she was never introduced to his parents and when she went to boarding school, his young boyfriend quietly moved in to the family home. Her mother, Margaret, is impervious to sarcasm or argument and renders Ella an intruder at the funeral by inviting her along only if she wants to come.

Ella’s alienation is further emphasized by her struggles with language. She speaks French but at emotional moments loses her fluency, revealing a vulnerable disconnect. As she begins a halting relationship with Max, the owner of a cat she is looking after, words – or the lack of them – threaten to create a gulf between them.

She felt again bizarrely self-conscious about speaking French, groping for words, seeing herself uncomfortably like a parody Englishwoman in a French film.

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The novel’s backdrop is both unique and relatable and the story will particularly resonate with people who, like me, moved to another country or dream of doing so. Having lived in Rome, I found Mundler’s vivid imagery illustrative of the light and shade of European life. The sunlight that comes through Ella’s bedroom window is ‘thrown over her bed like a perfectly unruffled quilt.’ As her perceptions of both France and England become less set, so does her sense of affiliation to either place. Unsure where she belongs, she feels like a foreigner in the country of her birth. Nationality, sexuality, and identity all seem fluid and old labels are called into question in what is a richly complex and thought-provoking read.

Ella’s feeling of transience as an expat is subtly drawn out. While she has a much-coveted permanent university job, she is still perceived as somehow ‘other’ despite speaking the language and setting up home. She battles everyday misogyny and her attempts to object achieve mixed results. She is inevitably defensive during these encounters but at times is herself harshly critical of the more traditional choices made by other women. Her personal brand of feminism seems to allow for routinely dismissing women who disagree with her. Despite her frustration at being judged for choosing not to have children, for instance, she seems to look down on other women regarding everything from their lifestyle choices to their appearance.

Narrative voice changes frequently as Ella attempts to see things from the point of view of her own mother and Max’s mother.  Margaret spent time in a psychiatric ward before being married off, engagement viewed as her only possible route to social acceptance. She therefore views Ella as incomplete without a husband, rather than as the successful woman she actually is. There are parallels, too, with Max’s artist mother who committed suicide, providing a compassionate insight into the impact of post-natal depression on the mother-child relationship.

There are frequent references to suicide as a sort of security blanket that has become a regular part of life. Bereavement sometimes catches Ella unawares, leaving her ‘howling on the kitchen floor,’ and she keeps enough medication in the house so that she could take an overdose at any time.

At bottom, however, it was herself she doubted most, the depth of the black holes of her own soul.

Ella’s introspections reveal her isolation as she searches for a sense of belonging. At times there are multiple inner voices whom Ella addresses directly in her head.

‘Well?’ she enquired, sharply, within. But at this the bluestocking and the soul-keeper exchanged a glance and then only lowered their separate eyes, each with the merest and most lady-like of shrugs.

These slightly cringe-worthy inner monologues jar with the overall tone of the novel. Fifty Shades of Grey did unexpectedly spring to mind! Ella’s character is brought to the surface better through her interactions with other people, subtly revealing her thoughts through her reactions. Her character is eloquently drawn and her voice is clearest when unimpeded by clumsy narrative tricks. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments, too, like when she imagines reducing her patronising manager to six inches high and ‘banging him into the ground like a tent peg.’

L’Anglaise is a profound exploration of the damage caused by parental neglect and the ensuing struggle to rebuild self-esteem. Painful snapshots capture this perfectly, like when a very young Ella is told to kiss her Daddy and ‘paralysed and powerless to perform as required’ she holds her arms up to the wrong man. But it is ultimately a hopeful story as time and experience allow the main characters to comprehend a little more about each other’s experiences and find forgiveness. As this intensely personal story unfolds, the rich prose and beautiful details ensure that the reader will be captivated from beginning to end.

Click here to order L’Anglaise direct from Holland House Books.

About the publisher:

Holland House is a bold, dynamic publisher of high quality literary and genre fiction. Investing time and energy into producing books by unique voices, they are not afraid of advancing new and challenging work, as well as great books written in the classic style. ‘We want to produce quality writing and to work with good people’. Imprints include Caerus Press for historical fiction and Grey Cells Press for crime fiction.

About the reviewer:

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, book reviewer, and dog lover. She recently won the City Writes competition for her short story, The Anniversary. She is currently organising a UK and Ireland-wide poetry and short story competition which will launch very soon. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123 or visit her website: www.beckydanks.com

 

 

An Open Letter to the London-centric Publishing Industry from the Northern Fiction Alliance

An Open Letter to the London-centric Publishing Industry from the Northern Fiction Alliance

Dear Publishers,
The book world is changing. And despite being notoriously slow-moving, the last
few years have seen the industry take a long, hard look at itself, and question
how it can better reflect its readers and society. Various pledges have been made
and initiatives set up. Yet, again, and again, industry reports have shown us how
white, middle-class and London-centric our industry still is, both in terms of
workforce and the range of writers being supported and published. The lessons
from these findings are clear: if you don’t have a diverse workforce or product,
sooner or later you will disappear.
So, what is to be done? If our industry is, as it claims, committed to tackling
inclusivity then we need to start diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more
importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with and
embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers.
The provocation, the invitation, then, is this: set up outside of London.
By moving away from traditional publishing centres, together we can reshape and
redefine the current literary landscape. Publishing – and the arts more widely –
should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet it is
one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. If we want
our industry to survive, or even flourish, we need to challenge this ‘old
monoculture’ and embed ourselves more thoroughly in different spaces and
communities across the UK. The business case for this is an obvious one: by
moving outside of the capital, publishers can also slash overheads, increase
profits and salaries. And that is to say nothing of the potential readers out there
whose tastes and experiences are currently being ignored.
Which brings us to the moral case for this provocation: how much talent do we
lose because, for a lot of people, London is too expensive, too far away, or,
frankly, too chaotic to move to? What message do we send and what narrative do
we build when entry to this industry relies so heavily on insider networks and the
wealth within one’s background?
To bring about real and long-lasting change, we need to encourage greater
collaboration and dialogue between publishers of all sizes within the industry, and
be bolder in our decision-making, recruitment and acquisitions policy. And what
could be bolder, more transformative, than bursting the publishing bubble, and
reconfiguring the industry, so the peripheries can inform the whole.
But there’s no point just agreeing with this sentiment. Here is our Eight Point
Plan, for genuinely changing your publishing house. Who’s in?
i. Sign up to the Spare Room Project, if you haven’t already, and offer
accommodation for someone living outside of London while they
undertake an internship or mentorship.
ii. Commit to paying all your interns the relevant Living Wage (in most cases,
this will be the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.20/hour)
iii. Attend the Northern Fiction Alliance roundtable on regional diversity in
Autumn 2018.
iv. Undertake an internal workforce audit (including geographical
background) and provide the Northern Fiction Alliance with the data on an
annual basis.

v. Commit to publishing more regional writers as part of your editorial
programme, and develop a strategy to reach audiences outside the capital
(and literary festivals).
vi. Sign up to Comma’s annual cross-company mentorship scheme that will
connect Northern publishing professionals with industry experts and peers
from both inside and outside of the region.
vii. Encourage the next generation of publishers by volunteering to speak at
industry and public events outside of London, such as And Other Stories’
‘Is Publishing For Me?’ open days across the North, and Comma’s
National Creative Writing Graduate Fair.
viii. Set up a regional office in one of the cultural hubs outside of London.
Yours sincerely, 
the Northern Fiction Alliance

Web

 

The Northern Fiction Alliance includes And Other Stories, Bluemoose Books, Comma Press, Dead Ink Books, Mayfly Press, Peepal Tree Press, Route, Saraband Books, Tilted Axis, Valley Press, Wrecking Ball Press

In the Blink of an Eye

Truth, Beauty and Death: Photography, the Artist and Mourning

In the Blink of an Eye, Ali Bacon, Linen Press, 2018

In a single instance, a transformative and indelible impression may be etched onto the mind via vision, a happening that occurs in “the blink of an eye”. There was seemingly one such moment for the author of this novel. Ali Bacon was working in Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she found a cache of famous Victorian photographs. The overwhelming surge of emotions aroused by that encounter with the first wave of photographic images sparked a life-long interest in early photographers. This, Bacon’s second novel, is the fruit of those powerful feelings and interest. It follows the life of the Scottish artist David Octavius Hill, one of those early pioneers of nineteenth century photography, as he brings to completion the first painting based on photographs, an endeavour that spanned decades. Hill brought a refined sensibility to his photographic partnership with the more technically minded Robert Adamson to establish photography as a recognised art form and the novel is very much a song of praise to this innovator.

The novel is also more than that, of course. It is both history and biography, imagination and reality, fact and fancy. The writing playfully and self-consciously alludes to its status as both truth and fiction, as prominent characters in the establishment of photography as a serious pursuit debate in its pages whether the photographic form of representation is art or artifice, the representation of things as they are or a reimagining of the world. That the issue is relevant to an understanding of the novel itself is indicated by the headings that the chapters fall under: the names of early photographic processes. Thus the novel is seemingly constructed as a photograph and presented as a photograph, one that invites philosophical reflection on its capacity to represent the world and to bear truth beyond surface appearance.

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There are a number of themes which develop in the novel besides its focus on truth and
artifice. Bacon makes much of imbuing her photograph of a novel with the sensibility of
women. She draws on Hill’s relationships with women and often writes from the perspective of these women to understand the man. The novel is therefore interesting in being a “her-story”, rather than a “his-story”, and a self-consciously feminine biography. However, the great theme of the novel which struck me the most was the relationship that it constructed between truth, beauty and mourning. Death is one of the most significant characters in the novel and touches all those involved. From the first, Hill is shown as a widower and then his partner in photography dies. There are further tragedies. All the art and photography that takes place in the novel, described constantly in terms of truth and beauty, can therefore be situated in ideas of death, bereavement and mourning. As Hill’s wife remarks to him towards the close of the novel in a terse summary of the perspective of the novel, Hill’s art can be understood thus: “‘[t]he sadness gives it beauty, the beauty gives you comfort” (204-5).

Inevitably, one wonders why, in Bacon’s view, sadness gives beauty. Is it the sense of
mortality that gives what is beautiful its value and meaning, the sense of an impending
ending? Is it the fleetingness of the moment that gives both art and photography, and this
novel constructed like a photograph, their ultimate raison d’être? Or can we only understand the true artist in the Western tradition as one that suffers?  That is, can Hill only be given recognition as a “proper” artist since he suffers and his suffering bears fruit? After all, one popular image of the artistic genius is “the tortured soul” who is besieged on all sides by harsh happenings, experiences which appear to give his or her art greater depth, value and meaning to the public. One thinks of how their biographical details add to the status of figures like Vincent Van Gogh and the feminist icon Frida Kahlo, who is in fact called “La Heroina del Dolor”, or “The Heroine of Pain”.

Bacon’s novel is certainly a substantial and well-wrought affair which invites the larger
questions on the part of readers. The individual chapters have been nominated for and won several awards and the novel is an engrossing read which also has a feminist dimension. It is a good second novel. It is also a good introduction to the early history of photography and the key debates that the medium first aroused, debates which follow us to the contemporary moment. In the Blink of an Eye is therefore, in my view, a richly rewarding read.

Click here to order Ali Bacon’s In the Blink of an Eye from Linen Press.

About the Publisher:

Linen Press is “a small, independent publisher run by women, for
women”. It published its first book in 2006 to much acclaim and strong sales. The Press
describes itself as the only indie women’s press in the UK. Its policy is “to encourage and
promote women writers and to give voice to a wide range of perspectives and themes that are relevant to women”. Linen Press, in its own words, aims to “publish books that are diverse, challenging, and surprising”. The collective background of the writers in the publishing house is described as “a multi-coloured patchwork of cultures, countries, ages and writing styles”.

Review by Suneel Mehmi

Suneel is currently researching the relationship between photography and law in fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1920s. He is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, singer/songwriter, musician and artist. Suneel is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster.

My Europe Anthology Launch – Review

MY EUROPE ANTHOLOGY BOOK LAUNCH HOSTED BY CONTEMPORARY SMALL PRESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER ON THURSDAY 8TH MARCH 2018

Patricia Borlenghi, publisher at Patrician Press, gave a short introduction about how the MY EUROPE anthology came into being. She is a passionate European and wanted to publish a collection on what Europe, the EU and Brexit meant to poets, writers, politicians and lawyers she was able to contact to contribute to the anthology.

Andrew Graham, director of Europaeum, an educational charity, to which Patrician Press will be donating from proceeds of book sales, gave a short talk about the charity.

The contributors to the anthology who then read were as follows:

Suzy Adderley reading her Neither Black nor White, an analysis of the complexities of the Brexit situation.

Wersha Bharadwa reading Living History. This is set in a re-enactment section of a museum and underlies the paradox that influential Indians had suffered being in the British Empire, but that the British felt that they were being colonised by Europe.

Catherine Coldstream read three poems: The Conjuring, the one she contributed to My Europe; one from our first anthology, Refugees and Peacekeepers; and a new one about her mother, who died recently.

There was a short interval, then George Szirtes who came to England after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, read his poignant poem, Je Suis Européen.

He was followed by Giacinto Palmieri, a stand-up comedian with a PhD in bilingual comedy who read his Because I Could (or What the EU Did for Me).

Last but not least was Petra McQueen reading her story, Fall Out, about a couple whose relationship disintegrates when they find themselves on opposing sides of the Brexit debate.

Anna Johnson, the editor of the anthology was present as were Mark Brayley, Cecilia Hall, Ken Smith and Stephen Timms MP who all contributed to the anthology.

Many, many thanks to the Contemporary Small Press for hosting the event, especially Leigh, Georgina and Sally.

Patricia Borlenghi.

Images by Georgina Colby and Sally-Shakti Willow.

Click here to order the My Europe Anthology from Patrician Press.

Autonomous Voices

An interview with poet/activist, Kathy D’Arcy, editor of Autonomy, a women-led anthology on taking back the body, published by New Binary Press (March 20th). The collection includes writing by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Sinead Gleeson, amongst many others, and makes a literary contribution to raising awareness in the campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Profits from the sale of the book go towards funding those involved in reproductive healthcare for women, including safe, legal abortion.

Editor Kathy D’Arcy originally trained as a medical doctor. She is completing a Creative Writing PhD at University College Cork, where she teaches with the Women’s Studies and Creative Writing Departments.

Fiona O’Connor is a writer and Visiting Lecturer at University of Westminster. Her one act play, she had a ticket in mind, has its London launch at Etcetera Theatre, Camden, April 5th – 7th. Excerpts from the play are included in Autonomy.

 

 

Fiona O’Connor: Kathy, can you speak about the origins of this project?

Kathy D’Arcy: I wanted to do something unusual and creative to raise funds for the campaign. And because I love reading creative writing, and because I think stories have a lot more power to engage people than academic work, or even sometimes facts, or the kind of angry tones that can happen in a debate like this, I wanted to gather a collection of writings exploring what it means to have bodily autonomy. I wanted to show how this is a complex concept, and so through all these stories and all of these experiences we can reach an understanding of the importance of this idea.

FO’C: How did you go about gathering these narratives?

KD’A: This had to be a collaborative project. I believe very strongly in activist collaboration. And particularly because this is a people-powered campaign – this fight is people powered, people on the ground, their experiences, their stories. It’s all about collaboration. So all I did really was put the word out – I just kept tweeting about it – making a call for stories, wanting anyone who wanted to, to get in touch – they didn’t have to be established writers or experts or anything like that. The book now is exactly what I wanted: it’s a very diverse collection of perspectives with many different genres, from memoir to poetry, to academic writing, to green plays, dramatic scripts, and people from all different levels and kinds of experience. Some are established writers and some are just beginning to write, some are bloggers, some people have never written creatively before and some people are well-established academics. So it’s a huge range. The launch too is a collaborative effort, taken over by contributors, and going really well throughout the country.

FO’C: It strikes me that this is literature moving forward in a new way. Do you feel the advance of the indie publishing industry, powered by technological developments, contributed to this people-powered initiative?

KD’A: I think we are very lucky to have so many new dynamic small presses. And I’m particularly lucky that we have New Binary Press here in Cork – only a few years old and run by James O’Sullivan, a lecturer in Digital Humanities at University College, Cork. James feels very strongly about opening out the range of publications available. He publishes very interesting, challenging books. And books like mine that I would never have been able to pitch to any kind of mainstream or commercial publisher, where the focus is going to be on profit. The importance of small literary presses like this can’t be overestimated in getting a more diverse voice out there. When we only have lots of large, commercially driven presses the voice gets very homogenous and monolithic. And so many perspectives and stories get left behind, which is so bad for literature, and culture. So it was fantastic that New Binary Press said yes, and is behind this project, willing to publish this book and to be part of the campaign.

FO’C: The Autonomy project seems to have been accomplished at a fast pace – from idea to the book in hand – just a few months. Is that something also more available to the small press industry? That they can get in behind an initiative like this and then produce something, which is so packed, almost instantaneously, as this seems to have been, to create an intervention in a political campaign?

KD’A: Well, I know from friends who work in some of the larger presses that things tend to be planned for years in advance. There is much less scope for spontaneity. New Binary Press moves from project to project, across disciplines and sectionalities. I think we have in Ireland a history of vibrant small presses that will explore issues larger presses wouldn’t touch. Controversial issues around power and class – and gender and equality. I think there’s often something subversive about smaller presses. And that’s so important.

FO’C: Then there’s also the role of this publication, not only in feeding into the debate, the discourse on feminism, women’s bodily autonomy, but also actually being part of the effort to raise funds, as well as awareness, something novel perhaps in relation to small, literary presses?

KD’A : Well, I think it’s something I’m seeing happen more and more – I’m thinking of work like Terry O’Brien’s anthology, Look at the Stars, a collection of work by contemporary writers about homelessness. That collection raised over £20,000 for the Simon Community charity working with rough sleepers in Ireland. For me it’s a no brainer – specifically on these kinds of issues, which people feel passionate about – they want to read stories and be involved in thinking these things through. And if they can do that, and contribute to the cause at the same time, and contribute to keeping small presses alive, which is after all, contributing to a richer literature for us all, I feel it’s one of the most useful things you can do with regard to publishing, because of the social value of publishing. So yes, contemporary literature can be a vital force for change.

The London launch of Autonomy takes place April 7th at Etcetera Theatre, Camden following performance of she had a ticket in mind.

Click here to pre-order Autonomy from New Binary Press.

Gaudy Bauble

Has there ever been a Lesbian Zoo?

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner: Dostoyevsky Wannabe Originals

Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018

Olivia Laing was not wrong in saying “the future of the queer avant-garde is safe with Isabel Waidner”, as Waidner creates a topsy-turvy, destabilising, dismantling, distorting post-identity Britain inhabited by Gilbert & George-esque lesbians, Peggy “the let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here Pegasus”, hoofed fibreglass sculptures, Healthy-lips, chalk faeries, a transarmy with red question marks compressing the left-facing heads and the “phantom of prohibited futures”. In this novel, the riff raff are running the show and you’re in for a treat.  Gaudy Bauble explores the political potential of innovative writing at the intersections with intersectional subjectivities – issues of gender, class, sexuality and race are at the forefront of this short novel, which seeks to disrupt normative social and literary structures at every turn.

Do you remember playing make-believe games as a child, engrossed in your own imagination where a teddy bear could suddenly be an evil genius and a pencil could become a frog? Where your toys took on a life of their own as characters in a twisted plot that only made sense to you, as you hadn’t learnt the “rules” of the game yet and anything could still be anything? Waidner creates this world anew in a queer dystopian utopia, expanding the possibilities of identity, narrative and style beyond any limits one might usually find within a novel. The reader is reminded that not only is imagination for adults too, but that our abilities to imagine, to go beyond categories, labels, genres, constructs and stereotypes, is only limited by our own boundaries, preconceptions, and compliance with social norms to keep them all intact. The best way to read this novel, therefore, is to shed those constructs and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.

Waidner breaks down conventions, literary genres, historical stereotypes and identities with style and finesse; if you let the text hit you right, moments of poignancy find themselves enmeshed with humorous undertones. Picture the character P.I. Belahg finding themselves wearing a bikini over their clothes, as they sleepily put it on without the realisation of what it was, only to awaken fully to the nightmare childhood trauma of gender conforming clothing and succumb to a meltdown. Here, the bikini acts as a trigger for memories of the “gender police” who “had seen to the dyke child being taught many life lessons. Lest she become a bulldagger. Lest she become a fully-fledged, raving, raging, reckoning and incorrigible adult powerdagger. Strong and unhinged. What if she organised. Already there had been Techtelmechtel with that wildgirl interpretation of John Taylor. Girl-on-girl hanky-panky. Innocent, but. Best nipped in the bud.” Waidner tackles age-old perceptions of lesbianism in subtle and effective ways. The reader catches a glimpse of Pre-Bikini Atoll, a 12-year old from West Croydon – whose name also gestures toward histories of colonialism, occupation, oppression and nuclear weapons testing at the site of Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean – and who preferred gender neutral pronouns: the past merges with the present in a significant moment of transformation whereby Bikini Atoll is “born”, as a performance act in a cabaret troupe called ‘The Avant-garde of the Oppressed’. This scenario ends in a poignant recognition of the struggles and pressures of gender conformity and the ways in which clothes can come to signify this in society, as Blulip, in drag as Painlevé Hypercamp, assists in providing the “context in which a bikini on a butch meant genderqueer camp rather than normative femininity.” These two characters partake in “Hypocamp micromovement […] a strangely microfied, butoh-like, and restrained full-body expression of gay exuberance” – an act I only wish I could see in real life!

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Historical gay identities creep in and start taking control of the workshop as queer identities wrestle with a history that still haunts their present. As team Reco.Mö hijack Tulep.tv, “Combating A Localised Evil” by airing a be-on-the-look-out and attempt to locate Cadavre Exquis for a Mördervogel that none of the characters can truly define or draw, Hilary adorns Bobák’s abdomen and face with maroon-coloured lipstick in the shape of tiny kidneys only for this creation to evoke the haunting inscription of sarcoma, an illness that shares a lineage of being known as the mark of aids. Present and past collide in the body’s inscriptions, highlighting how the body tells all, how it has been marked as the bearer of identity, of histories and of stigmas one does not choose. Waidner’s ability to swiftly alter the perception and representation of the smallest things, whether that be lipstick marks, hoofed figurines, chalk faeries, glittery faces or carpets that hold entire ecosystems of germs, continuously wrong-foots the reader in the best of ways.

Taking us through a gay taxonomy of anthropomorphic animals deemed appropriate for gay stereotypes, the reader is introduced to the gay zoo, a newspaper article entitled Who’s Who at the Zoo? that lists male homosexuals as Gay Bears, Owls, Cygnets, Pussycats, Gazelles, Afghans, and Marmosets. Waidner addresses the lack of a lesbian equivalent with an amusing tangent about creating lesbian counterparts. Had there been a lesbian zoo? And if there was one, what would there be in comparison to the cubs, otters, and other animals that allowed gay men to strip themselves of their humanness and take on animal qualities? Detailing the scenario with creations, such as Ursula “a lesbian-identified Bear, or a Bear-identified lesbian”, the reader sees the woeful lack of a lesbian history and how, in a post-identity Britain that would prefer to forget the past before women have had a chance to create their own equivalents, women are left to grapple with their own makeshift identities, often restricted to the femme-butch dichotomy that cannot seem to be shaken. Waidner addresses crucial issues and hard truths, but wraps them up in glitter and imagination, so that the reader doesn’t fully realise the richness of Waidner’s narrative as it creates a present so haunted and full of the past that brought us to it. There is no comparing this novel to previous texts, for it is one of a kind and will take many more reads in order to fully engage with all the references and attention to detail that Waidner has brought to these eccentric, quirky and queer characters and the world they inhabit.

Click here to buy Isabel Waidner’s Gaudy Bauble direct from Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

About the Publisher:

Dostoyevsky Wannabe publish independent/experimental/underground things: We publish a lot of books, any types of books − short books, long books, flash fiction, poetry, anthologies, samplers, chapbooks, experimental things.

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.

 

 

Darker with the Lights On

Darker with the Lights On, David Hayden: Little Island Press

Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018

“The mind is a slope and the words run off like water and who knows where they go?” (from ‘Memory House‘)

Darker with the Lights On is a collection of 20 short stories by David Hayden, a prolific writer of short fiction, published by Little Island Press.  

With an abundance of imagination through surreal and unbounded worlds beyond and beneath the world we inhabit, Darker with the Lights On is like taking a train in the dark, the carriage so brightly lit that you struggle to see a world you know is there, beyond the pane of glass. You cup your hands around your eyes and press your nose against the window, trying to see into the darkness, only to be confronted by your own reflection. You cannot see past the ghost of yourself. If only they’d turn the lights off, so you might see clearly the world outside. It is this strange juxtaposition of sense, sensation and rationalising that Hayden captures so brilliantly in this collection.

“The dark was outside, thick and blue, while in the dining room light glinted off silk and silver becoming general glitter that, if seen from the night, would have signified a happy party.” (from ‘The Bread that was Broken’)

Hayden inhabits nowhere places and nothings as intrinsic parts of life. He asks what it means to call somewhere a place and what it means, in fact, to say or do anything at all.

“The train travelled through quiet places with unused piles of gravel, abandoned cars, hard patch farms […] Michael paid close attention to the gradual aggregation of the city, trying to discover the point at which nowhere became somewhere.” (from ‘Last Call for the Hated’)

The stories are works of metafiction that assert the idea that the most radical, surreal, illusory imaginings can be brought to the page:

“Words are just mute smudges until you know what they mean, and when you put them together they can tell all manner of things. There’s plenty you can’t say with words. You can fall through words down into a seething belly world of billions of objects and notions, all shrieking and hiding.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)

Darker+With+the+Ligths+On+fcp

Hayden constructs pockets of hyper-reality that are nonsensical and radiant: “When you die – when you die – you revive in the world of the last book you were reading before your… demise” (from ‘Reading’). It is writing that reaches for the depths of our minds’ possibility. It asks: what can be imagined? Beyond sense, rationality, logic. On reading, I admit, I became confrontational, annoyed, indifferent, dozing off. How dare you, Hayden, try to test the limits of my mind! But I caught glimpses, symbolic moments of meaning, which pulled me in, and continue to do so. Mine was the response of a reader tired, rushed, distracted, shut off, but I fought the shadow of myself to find ways into the text that Hayden offers wholeheartedly.

“I grow calmer and darker, waiting for the world to fall away not knowing whether it will fall up or down.” (from ‘Memory House’)

Much lies dormant beneath the juddering page inflicted with Hayden’s prose, poised to ambush the reader with its brilliance. This is writing that it is a pleasure to write about – to think about with as much vigour as if it were your own. That is what it asks of you: to be curious, clenched and to grapple with consciousness in the act of reading.

“Books let you circle around time, find the root of time, lose time, recover time.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)

Often returning to the first line in the last, each story picks words out of themselves, repeating and filtering down its own language. Time is a curious factor throughout, how it passes and how it is experienced. Each story balances philosophical, psychological and physiological elements, and contributes to the balance of the collection as a whole. Not a balance serene and unwavering, but a struggling and unstable attempt at equilibrium that is inexplicably human. 

Click here to buy David Hayden’s Darker with the Lights On direct from Little Island Press.

About the Publisher:

Little Island Press is an independent publisher of fiction, poetry and essays. Founded in 2016, it publishes innovative, intellectually ambitious writing in elegant editions designed by the award-winning design studio typographic research unit.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.