Murder in Montego Bay

Murder in Montego Bay, Paula Lennon: Jacaranda Books

I was pleased to receive a copy of Murder In Montego Bay via The Contemporary Small Press because of its Jamaican authorship and setting. I have only previously read one Jamaican novel, A Brief History Of Seven Killings, and although this book also revolves around murder, it provides a very different perspective on island life. Lennon sets her tale within the grossly underfunded Jamaican police service. I appreciated that her team of detectives really are portrayed as a team. Their leader, Preddy, does have shades of the dysfunctional-older-detective-against-the-world crime fiction cliché, but at least he isn’t an alcoholic who never eats! There’s no random love interest forced into the plot either which made a refreshing change! Instead Lennon’s detectives realistically banter, support and rile each other in a patois dialogue. Their camaraderie reminded me of Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series and I think fans of those books might also enjoy this tropical mystery.

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Lennon’s great strength I thought was in her evocation of Jamaican culture and people. She presents the poverty of the island alongside the vast wealth of some of its inhabitants, and shows how tourists are generally fenced into their own secure beach enclaves away from sights that might discourage them from visiting again. Details of police station disrepair are shocking. I liked that the lack of available high tech gadgets gave a classic crime fiction feel in keeping with the investigation’s style. This novel is certainly more of a character-driven mystery than an all-action thriller. The plot narrative isn’t particularly convoluted, but Lennon kept my interest throughout and I actually found myself being drawn deeper into her created world as the book progressed. I wasn’t immediately gripped by the early chapters, but struggled to lay the book aside by the end as I wanted to know how everything would turn out! Murder In Montego Bay is a nicely satisfying read and has the potential to continue into a strong series.

Click here to find Murder in Montego Bay at Jacaranda Books.

About the Publisher:

Jacaranda Books Art Music is an independent publishing house based in London publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.

Who Killed Emil Kreisler?

A malevolent gorilla in a zoological gardens is witness to the flaws and foibles of the keepers who care for him. A busload of limbless children are driven to school in a warzone, where they are taught about the innocent delights of ‘animals and flowers.’ A cherished collection of refined Japanese erotica conceals a far darker secret. These are just some of the vivid scenarios in Who Killed Emil Kreisler?; twenty stories that are eclectic, intriguing and often discomfiting. Nigel Jarrett reaches across continents and cultures; blending fact with fiction and challenging his readers’ belief in identity, memory and legacy.
‘You know when you take pictures off the wall after many years and they leave a ghost of where they’d been hanging?’

Jarrett’s most successful stories, and the ones that burrow deepest under the skin, are those concerned with the ghostly traces we leave behind after we’re gone, like fingerprints on a windowpane. In Wish You Were Here, a haunting tale about mysterious messages from an unknown sender, the narrator shares this belief in spectral outlines; ‘You know when you take pictures off the wall after many years and they leave a ghost of where they’d been hanging?’ Since the death of his elderly neighbour, he has been the recipient of blank postcards, which follow him from place to place and always contain the ‘start of a written message, abandoned before it had got under way.’ Jarrett is deliberately ambiguous about the suggestion of anything supernatural, and even when he spots a woman with the same face as his dead neighbour staring at him on a train, the narrator is dismissive of his own instinctive fear (‘Having said that, I acknowledge how the mind plays tricks’). However, there is something undeniably eerie about the premise, especially as some of the postcards contain pictures of ‘unbearable desolation’. The creep of enveloping, elemental nature is palpable, with the figures in the pictures reduced to pixels in an indifferent landscape; ‘they are composed of dots, just like the surroundings that overwhelm them…the elements triumph; there is no-one to be found.’

In Images from the Floating World, there is a similar sense of gradual disintegration; ‘Grandmother’s Polaroid shot of the missing piece, now faded almost to a white-out, seems the paradigm of slippery truth. The original is lost forever, the facsimile of the original is going the same way’. This story is typical of Jarrett’s style; seemingly about a charmingly eccentric butler-cum-valet and a set of wealthy grandparents who collect rare and valuable pornography, the dark heart of the narrative is only revealed in unsettling snapshots. The suggestion of abuse is always implied rather than explicit but this makes the confessional letter sent by the narrator’s sister before her death (‘At the end of the letter was an intriguing sentence: And then there were three – Diggory, Grandma and Lewis’) all the more disturbing for its suggestion of middle-class complicity. The narrator strains to understand the enormity of what befell his sister in the darkened corridors of their childhood home but finds the full picture of what happened is always ‘being spirited secretly out of reach’, although whether by delusion or deception is unclear.

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Although the scope of his stories is ambitious and free-wheeling, Jarrett is the master of understatement. He depicts momentous, and occasionally horrific, events with a journalist’s wry eye for detail and a detached curiosity. In Christ, Ronnie, Christ, a pensive tale of trauma, failing memory and disconnect, a disturbing act of accidental voyeurism is told with such minimal embellishment that it is bordering on indifference. The first sentence of the story is stark in its simplicity; ‘Merrett once saw a woman leap to her death from a high cliff.’ He goes on to describe the apparent calmness before the moment of impact; ‘she strode smartly like a high-diver, leant forward at an impossible angle and plunged towards the river head first, bouncing off some protruding rocks and falling into the water with a brief, visible commotion, but no sound.’ This act of self-destruction is seen from a distance, with no context other than that dreamlike high dive, but I found that the image of the falling woman was seared into my consciousness despite its superficial tranquility and bloodlessness.

‘Grandmother’s Polaroid shot of the missing piece, now faded almost to a white-out, seems the paradigm of slippery truth. The original is lost forever, the facsimile of the original is going the same way’

There are many other stories in the collection which convey Jarrett’s lightness of touch and ability to transcend genres; the lingering sense of cultural dislocation in El Cid, the gentle pathos of Ziggurat, or the utter immersion in a specific time and place that comes as a result of reading Rhapsodie, an epistolary saga which spans decades and continents. However it’s A Weissman Girl that contains the description of a style of writing uncannily reminiscent of Jarrett’s own. This evocative tale of a writer and his disturbed wife living in rural isolation, like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald without the urban glamour, includes a passage where the narrator describes the reclusive writer’s particular style of storytelling: ‘its imaginative kite flight reigned in and let out by almost deadpan reportage, at turns strolling and hurrying.’ This is such an accurate description of Jarrett’s own understated style of writing that it almost feels deliberate. The fictional writer profiled in A Weissman Girl ‘tells the tale yet…deepens what’s told’; perhaps a reminder that subtlety and suggestion, Jarrett’s modus operandi in this collection, is sometimes more powerful than shock value.

If there is an image which Jarrett’s stories bring to mind, it would be a faded photograph; muted, shadowy and slightly blurred around the edges but all the more enticing for it. Although some of his stories are overstuffed and rather dense, (Miss Mercedes Gleitze comes to mind) and his narratives tend to meander frustratingly towards anti-climatic conclusions, Jarrett’s devastating subtlety in Wish You Were Here, Christ, Ronnie, Christ and A Weissman Girl will haunt you long after the final page has been turned. One of his narrators asserts that ‘So much dies of us when we die’, but many of the characters in these stories leave indelible traces which reach out to warp and stain the lives of others, like watermarks on a page.

Click here to find Who Killed Emil Kreisler? on the Cultured Llama website

About the Publisher:

Cultured Llama, which was originally established by Maria McCarthy and her husband Bob Carling in a converted stable, publishes poetry, short fiction and cultural non-fiction or, as the website intriguingly describes it, ‘curious things.’

Review by Katie Witcombe

Katie Witcombe is a book-fiend and (very) occasional poet. She will quite happily read anything, including the backs of cereal boxes. Also a recent convert to long-distance running.

‘We bulwark our flesh from the effort’

Common Rest, Holly Pester: Test Centre Publications

By song we bulwark our flesh from the effort and flesh from our flesh from effort from them

– Care

Common Rest takes the form of the lullaby as a structural and thematic starting point for experimentation with poetry in its material manifestations.  A project in collaborative, improvisational sound-poetry accompanied by a book of written poems, both of which explore the languages of work and rest.  Holly Pester’s collaborative sound-work with accompanying book of poetry is available as a 10” vinyl LP in a gatefold sleeve from Test Centre in a limited edition of 250 copies. Pester is exceptionally talented in this field, and this collection features collaborations with Nat Raha and Verity Spott – both of whom are working experimentally with sound in innovative and exciting ways.  The record also features collaboration with poet Vahni Capildeo, as well as artists, musicians and sound artists: the result is a poetry project tangible and alive with shapes and shades and weathers.

tonight you might feel your feet multiply / you might lick or suck or clean ‘em / cos you’ve got a nighttime job 

– Burn

Common Rest

The juxtaposition between the poetry on the page and the sound poetry generates tangential layering and a satisfyingly physical sensation to roll around one’s tongue and cradle in one’s limbs. It’s tangible, tasty and textured.  The materiality of language in its verbal and visual forms is central to Common Rest’s project: the soundscapes feature improvised repetition based on sounds, words and phrases lifted out of sequence from the poetry; ad libs; riffs; vocal and instrumental atmospheric sounds; shifts in volume and pace; haunting, dream-like lullabies both sung and spoken… What the LP is NOT is a spoken word recitation of the poems in the book. There are counterpoints and variations, fissures and reimaginings, teasing and testing the limits of the poetry on the page. The book of poetry itself is equally aware of its material qualities: printed in teal-blue lettering on spacious, soft-white pages, the colour and layout create the sense of tranquility that each poem desires and yet which eludes the vocabulary of most.

These are objects that have been designed with materiality in mind. The poetry’s physical effect/affect on the listener’s body is central to its extended materiality: ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) artist Claire Tolan works with Pester on the track Brush to engender a soundscape that will soothe (and haunt) the listener physically as well as mentally and emotionally, perhaps as a lullaby traditionally might.

I am asleep


but my organs work on some image my heart

likes to look at in the rest space

– Glamour hallucinated love

Playing with the structural conventions of the lullaby and the vocabularies of work and rest, these poetic works explore the impacts of work and rest on human bodies and psychologies.  The two Untitled Lullabys highlight  both the song’s ability to ‘bulwark [the] flesh [against] effort’ and the exhaustive toll of that effort on the physical body. Pester suggests that, ‘While a lullaby sounds out the material labour of care, makes its flesh and breath felt, it also sounds out the radical obscuring of work. Therefore a lullaby might be a chorus for all bodies, affectively performing a different worksong, a kind of common rest.’  Physical Capabilities seems to take its vocabulary from a standard government document to assess a disabled person’s fitness for work.  Pester compounds the words ‘tell us how’, so that the verbal telling is conflated with the visual showing, highlighting the burden of proof as it increasingly falls on the vulnerable, as well as foregrounding the formal strategies employed within Common Rest as a project.

Tellus if you use


a stick tellushow it affects It varies Can you go up tellus more about steps Reaching

– Physical Capabilities

This poetry project locates the effects of the political within the physical bodies of the individual and collective workers and their rhythms of song and sound.  It is one of the most innovative and exciting new poetry projects currently available and it’s a perfect showcase for the publishing work of Test Centre.  Test Centre has an impressive back-catalogue of spoken-word vinyl LPs, books and pamphlets published since 2011, a regular magazine of poetry and fiction, and a forthcoming list of new works.  The combined sound-and-book production of Common Rest re-energises the publication and performance of poetry and demonstrates why Test Centre was nominated ‘Most Innovative Publisher’ at the 2015 Saboteur Awards.

In my opinion, ALL poetry should be presented like this, but I suspect that it just wouldn’t always work.  What Holly Pester and her collaborators have created, however, has found its most fitting expression in the publishing expertise at Test Centre.  This is a collection you should own.

Click here to find Holly Pester’s Common Rest at Test Centre.

Common Rest contributors:
Holly Pester is a poet, writer and cross-disciplinary researcher. hollypester.com
Emma Bennett is performance artist and stand-up comedy scholar. emmabennettperformance.wordpress.com
Vahni Capildeo is an award-winning poet, multi-disciplinary writer and Old Norse scholar. carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?owner_id=1167
Jenny Moore is an artist, musician and drummer in a band. jennymoore.co
Nat Raha is a poet, trans activist and researcher in queer Marxism. sociopatheticsemaphores.blogspot.co.uk
Vera Rodriguez is a photographer, dancer and a sex worker support telephone line operator. ethicalstripper.com/site/the-collective/vera-rodriguez/
Verity Spott is a poet, cellist and mental health care worker. twotornhalves.blogspot.co.uk
Claire Tolan is a sound and ASMR artist. cst.yt
Yasmin Kuymizakis (sound editor) is a sound artist, sound designer and singer/songwriter. soundcloud.com/yasmin-kuymizakis
Mariana Simnett (album cover artist) is an artist. frieze.com/article/focus-marianna-simnett

About the Publisher:

Test Centre is an independent publishing house and record label with an interest in the spoken and written word. Based in Hackney, East London, it was established in 2011 by Will Shutes and Jess Chandler.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster and is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press. @willowwriting

Skimming over Black Glass and Counting Lies

The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell: Inspired Quill, Release date – October 2017

‘Ready?’ Always the same word. The same starting gun. He liked that.

Are we ever truly ready for what life throws at us and can we outrun fate? As Abbott, a gay man who works with troubled boys, runs to the refuge of a red beach hut during a time of fear, persecution and the threat of his life being torn down, he meets an unlikely friend, Neville, a young boy aged eight. Lynn Michell writes a beautifully innocent and endearing tale twisted by the tainted gaze of society’s perverse darkness, as two lost souls find hope in their unlikely companionship amidst their separate turmoil. As the odd yet surprisingly complementary pairing draw the attention of others’ gazes, which eventually places them under suspicion, Michell subtly tackles prejudice by treading the thin line between what is and is not appropriate. Abbott continuously questions how his actions may be read and misconstrued by those watching, yet both Abbott and Neville provide each other with the quiet trust, understanding and constancy they are each searching for in a time of need.

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The novel’s structure eloquently intertwines memories and inner dialogue throughout, weaving Abbott’s childhood memories of days on the beach with his aunt and the terrible mistake that led to him running from his current life. The Hut becomes a refuge and a safe place to revisit these memories – a place of innocence and happiness. Meeting Neville helps Abbott, in many ways, to recapture this time and see the world through a child’s eyes once more; allowing him to share the heartfelt, excited, compassionate, and honest perception of Neville. Michell develops the characters with an undercurrent of stillness running through their fibres; capturing the mind of Neville with such authenticity and attention to detail, which is no small feat. She interlaces his inquisitive nature with a quirky need to count everything in an attempt to appease an anxiety for order, rules and consistency. The literal, black and white mind of a child tests the grayscale of an adult’s mind, as Michell captures deep and poignant moments when tackling the truths and lessons people learn as they grow up.

Neville has a fascination and desire to understand words, to understand language and his place within it. Abbott meets this desire through the knowledge he’s gained whilst working with troubled boys, providing Neville with an adult figure who will actually be honest with him and treat him as an equal – recognising that he needs consistency and someone to take the time to know him. 

‘But we can say now it’s day and now it’s night…’

‘Only afterwards. There’s light and dark but there’s grey in between. Twilight. It doesn’t matter if we aren’t sure. It’s OK sometimes not to know. To be uncertain.’

‘I like certain.’

‘I know you do.’

‘What about me and you? Are we certain?’ He liked the word.

Whilst Neville teaches Abbott to be true to himself and find the honesty in what is spoken, Abbott provides Neville with the safety and security to be ok with the uncertainty of life; to be ok with not knowing. Michell presents the reader with the delicate and fragile moments in which one reveals oneself to another and hopes that that vulnerability will be met with compassion. Abbott gives Neville the confidence to speak and the trust in someone being there to listen. He is given the chance to share his voice and his thoughts, a truly powerful gift to give another, which Abbott, knowing the danger of being made to feel voiceless against discrimination, knows all too well.

In The Red Beach Hut language is not always vocal: Lynn Michell’s writing evokes the subtle languages of touch, of music, of being on the sea, and of being still. There are other ways, and sometimes more powerful ways, to communicate than with words.

 

Before they set off, the boy bounded up the steps and slipped his small hand into the man’s big one. Abbott let it rest there. The gesture spoke of trust and Abbott offered his acceptance. How could he betray it?

They give each other companionship, yet through this pairing Michell similarly tests the boundaries of intimacy, as Neville desperately wishes Abbott was a father-figure and Abbott must navigate the conflict of the intensity of emotions within a child’s mind. There is a tenderness to Neville – the deep and absorbing love of a child who’s found a friend with whom to learn how not to be so alone. The internal world of a child is a lonely place, a confusing place of learning the rules of life, and Abbott offers a helping hand of guidance.

One goes on and on, running on the same treadmill, never considering an alternative until forced to stop, he thought.

In each other’s company, Abbott and Neville find a moment to pause, reflect and just be, there is an easiness in which they can both stop running – Neville stops counting all the time, and Abbott stops running from himself. Out of rhythm with society, they find solace in the sea’s rhythm, the subtle shifts in the water’s moods and the constant gravitational pull they feel to be there on the seashore looking out and imagining what could be. As Neville says, “I can wish”, and perhaps wishing is all we ever can do.

The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell

About the publisher:

Inspired Quill is a not-for-profit publishing house which is dedicated to quality publications and providing a people-oriented platform for writers to develop their skills in writing, marketing and self-editing. They value a collaborative approach with their authors throughout the process from submission to launch, endeavouring to produce unique and powerful pieces of work.

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.

Second to None

Second to None

This Is Not Your Final Form: Poems About Birmingham, edited by Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright. The Emma Press, 2017.

Join Emma Wright at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 27th June 6-9pm.

‘This is not a city.

This is a cloudburst of culture –

and we are not citizens,

we are soaked to the bone.’

(More canals than Venice! By Kibriya Mehrban)

The UK’s second city has a genuinely inclusive, refreshingly unpretentious, truly exceptional creative scene. This Is Not Your Final Form is the much-anticipated anthology of entries to the inaugural Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word competition, which took place earlier this year.

From the industrial revolution to intimate family histories, public and private stories combine in this new book of poems celebrating Birmingham. As a Brummie based in London, I was very excited to read it. An ambitious project, it attempts to capture the humour and humanity of this dynamic and open-minded ‘city of a thousand tongues.’ (Beorma by Gregory Leadbetter)

This Is Not Your Final Form

Heather Freckleton’s In the Bullring: After image of my Parents took me straight back to shopping for dress-making fabric in the Rag Market with my Mom when I was little. We would have ‘greasy newspapers full of chips’ as a treat, possibly to stop me moaning. Shaun Hands made me laugh out loud with his references to Daysaver bus tickets and the old Brutalist architecture in Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images. His witty blend of admiration, nostalgia and disgust flawlessly contrasts the modern with the old images of the city.

‘As long as kids are throwing shopping trolleys into rivers/

There’ll always be a Birmingham.’

Washday by Bernadette Lynch captures the unpredictability of working class wartime life. In this vibrant snapshot of the past, a mundane afternoon is made extraordinary by the dramatic return of a soldier. It is a beautifully understated study of how challenging times fostered the resilience of local people who carried on through adversity.

‘Our Dawn scrubbed her knuckles raw on the washboard, cleansing Europe of Hitler.’

In the melancholy prose poem The Second Law of Thermodynamics by Susannah Dickey, Birmingham’s Electric Cinema, the oldest working cinema in the UK, forms the backdrop to an unsuccessful date. With a nod to its seedier past, the narrator attempts to make a connection amidst the chaos of the city whilst struggling with insecurity.

‘I wish I could stop trying to justify myself. The city urges me not to, in its greenery,

its concrete, its clustered formations like constellations.’

Memories of family life growing up in modern Birmingham are intricately woven into Reza Arabpour’s ingenious Another Day in a Brummie Life. Local and international communities combine, emphasizing the city’s multicultural heart. It subtly focuses on the human face of the city as well as the hidden beauty behind the concrete façades.

‘I picked up a gab’s worth

of Baba’s Mama’s tongue –

the Persian version –

in Handsworth above my Amoo’s shop

among the varieties of life making roots

from distant time zones.’

The incredibly catchy Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Tree? by Helen Rehman is based on a real-life local murder case. During the second world war, a woman’s body was found hidden inside a tree in the woods. The mystery has never been solved and the poem artfully incorporates the various local conspiracy theories surrounding the story. This rhythmic plain spoken lyrical poem reads like a sinister children’s playground chant and stayed with me for days.

‘Birmingham has bloomed since 1943,

from the Bullring to John Lewis to the Library –

we have theatres, universities, a symphony,

but we still can’t name the woman in the wych elm tree.’

This Is Not Your Final Form is a compact, accessible read befitting multiple revisits in order to uncover the poems’ many layers. It made me laugh, cry, and wonder why I’ve never wondered what the Floozie in the Jacuzzi dreams about at night. The poets have channelled the city’s depths and looked (for the most part) beyond the obvious clichés. Talented voices of many different backgrounds and poetic styles are featured, reflecting the diversity which to me is one of the city’s greatest strengths. The city’s distinctive self-deprecating humour and outlook fill the pages of this funny, bleak, uplifting, tragic, original, gritty and inspirational love letter to Birmingham.

‘An open sky/

The streets I was raised around/

I walk among them/

Feel this world before me’

(Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images by Shaun Hands)

Emma Wright, founder of The Emma Press and co-editor of This Is Not Your Final Form will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Tuesday 27th June 6-9pm.  For more information and tickets click here.

About the Publisher:

The Emma Press is an award-winning independent publisher based in Birmingham. Founded by Emma Wright in 2012, it is ‘dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books’ and aims to make poetry more accessible. The Emma Press is keen to discover new writers and holds regular themed poetry competitions.

Click here to find This Is Not Your Final Form on The Emma Press website.

Review by Becky Danks:

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, occasional poet, and book reviewer. Among other things! Her poem was shortlisted for the Verve Festival poetry competition 2017. Read her magazine feature on the Verve Festival here. Twitter: @BeckyD123. Website: www.beckydanks.com

 

 

Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao: Linen Press, 2017

‘The rain has stopped and the street gleams like the barrel of a rifle.’

Shanghai, 1937. During the opulent days before the Second World War, 18-year-old Anyi travels to the city determined to make her fortune. Raped and left for dead on the journey, this is the story of her battle for survival in a culture where all a woman has is her fragile reputation.

As an intelligent young lady from wealthy parents, Anyi has always been frustrated by polite society’s stifling attitudes towards women. Deeply traumatised by the vicious attack, she is taken in by her aunt and uncle who, despite their initial kindness, rush to arrange her marriage before what they consider to be her shameful secret is revealed.

‘No-one must know. It never happened, you see, because you are a good girl from a good family. Something like that doesn’t happen to people like us’.

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Referred to from the beginning as ‘the broken girl’, Anyi defiantly reinvents herself as a glamorous siren able to wrap men around her little finger. Captivatingly beautiful, she inspires lust and jealousy in equal measure. Against the odds, she becomes a successful dancer earning enough money to live independently. In the dazzling world of the dancehalls, she is worshipped by diplomats and playboys alike as she embraces her new lavish and amoral celebrity lifestyle.

‘We, the dancing girls, are the gazelles who draw the predators out of the high grass. The whores are the dead meat to be flung to the lions.’

But in secret she is plagued by visions of the soldiers who violated her and at night their ghosts line her bedroom wall. In a desperate attempt to block out the memories, she seeks release by allowing paying men to abuse her. At times a painful read featuring unflinching references to physical and emotional cruelty, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is a sensitive portrayal of the devastating impact one incident can have on a woman’s life.

‘Why didn’t they just leave me to the dogs?’

It is also a brutally honest account of the seedier side of Shanghai as the flashbulbs of the paparazzi thinly veil the opium-addled, oppressive courtesan culture flourishing beneath the surface. Anyi’s most powerful customer, the charming Japanese diplomat Mr Tanikazi, finds her eagerness to satisfy his particular taste for violence irresistible. Political tensions mount in the buildup to the Japanese invasion as the world teeters on the edge of war. Secret desires overflow into real life as people’s public and private faces are threatened with exposure.

‘The city amazed and disgusted him. Perversion was available on any street corner of Shanghai’.

The story is narrated by multiple characters and everyone from family members to the downtrodden servants is given a voice. The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page and the reader is offered a vivid picture of events from different points of view. Progressive attitudes collide with old customs in a world tentatively embracing modernity yet still steeped in tradition. Gripping and complex, this challenging read provides an intensely detailed, often harrowing but ultimately sympathetic insight into a lost culture.

Click here to order Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and The Turtle direct from Linen Press.

About the Publisher

Linen Press is an independent publishing house founded by Lynn Michell and run ‘by women, for women’ that aims to promote talented female writers producing unique work in a range of genres about relatable issues that matter to women today. Michell explains: ‘I want to read beautifully crafted writing that speaks to women. I want to fall into a novel and not emerge until its ending’.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, book reviewer, and occasional poet. She was recently shortlisted for the Verve Poetry Prize 2017. Follow her on Twitter @BeckyD123 or visit her website www.beckydanks.com.

What’s a Word?

What’s a Word?

Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams: Influx Press, 2017

‘what’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone – ’

Eley Williams’ debut short story collection delights in the deliciousness of words – their taste on the tongue, their vertiginous proliferation of meaning, their resonant archaic hum.  Attrib. artfully weaves narrative textuality with metanarrative construction processes – the writer’s process of discovering and attributing layers of meaning to interesting and unusual words, or even mundane ones, becomes part of the narrative texture of these stories.  The reader is taken on a kaleidoscopic journey through language as these uncanny stories and bizarre situations shine a colourful spotlight onto a refracted mirror of contemporary life.

The title story, Attrib., focuses on the work of a Foley artist providing incidental sound details for an audio guide to accompany a major new display of the life and work of Michelangelo.  Following her through her ideas for sound effects to accompany the Creation of Eve, which include the use of a ‘day-old, tooth-stripped #34 Char Siu takeaway rib’, we are prompted to consider the word ‘rib’ as it sits within the larger body of ‘attribute’.  Then we might consider the proliferations of meaning depending on whether we take ‘attribute’ to be a verb or a noun – is Eve to be ‘ascribed to’ Adam, or he to her?  Or should we consider Adam to be the ‘cause’ of Eve?  Each of these meanings is suggested within Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary definition of ‘To Attribute’ as the book’s epigraph.  But what if we take attribute as a noun: a quality, feature or inherent part?  Does this make Eve a quality or feature of Adam?  Williams also casually drops a reference to ‘tributary’ – with all its constituent parts that bind it to the words ‘attribute’ and ‘rib’ – so we might question whether Eve is to be seen as a ‘tributary’ of Adam, either a minor part to Adam’s major, or the one who pays him tribute.  Consistent within this narrative is the repeated noun/verb ‘BAFFLES’, suggestive of the narrator’s response to the unequal treatment of Adam and Eve by the gallery commissioners, Michelangelo, God…

Attrib.

The stories in this collection draw inspiration from a wide range of characters and situations that are both singularly unique and intimately recognisable.  The catalogue and spotter’s guide to Rosette Manufacture, the synaesthete looking for a date or the rat trained to detect landmines would seem absurd but for Williams’ deeply human insight into her characters’ worlds into which she draws us through the weft and warp of her words.  The narrator of Smote begins, ‘To kiss you should not involve such fear of imprecision’ and continues to detail the nervous uncertainty around the giving of a kiss in a public place in front of Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares – an image which perhaps informs the bold and striking cover design of the book – cascading into a breathless six-page stream without a single full stop.  The final denoument of this story contains the arresting phrases ‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’.

‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’

These are stories that are so repeatedly re-readable – for their humour, their humanity and their sheer revelry in the textual matter of the language from which they are made: the physical, pleasurable, palpable, enigmatic and unguent words and all they carry with them.  Eley Williams’ Attrib. is a book that I recommend to writers, readers, and anyone with a love of words and an affectionate soft-spot for the humans that are bound up with them.

Click here to buy Eley Williams’ Attrib. and other stories directly from Influx Press.

About the Publisher

Influx Press is an independent publisher committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow, research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press, is a doctoral researcher in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster where she also teaches on the ‘Other Worlds’ module.   The Unfinished Dream, an experimental collection of words and images by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting