I have to admit, when I opened this book I expected to be greeted by a collection of beautifully woven, gentle, precise stories. But I was mistaken. Although beautifully woven, and particularly precise, gentle they are not. Often tackling issues of domestic violence, sexuality and the big old question of ‘why are we here?’ This book is not for the faint hearted. I mean, the title for the opening story, “The Smell of the Slaughterhouse” says it all really.
But don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say this book isn’t a piece of literary prowess, because it is. Nicholas Royles’ collection of eclectic short stories shows the cream of contemporary British writing, in a style that may not get quite as much attention as it deserves. Although the constant theme throughout the collection seems to be a struggle of one kind or another, each authors own particular style turns the book into an intense mix and match of themes, form and style. It’s like diving into a bag of pick ‘n’ mix, knowing you’ve only got sweets that’ll blow your head off.
Alison Moores’ opening tale, “The Smell of the Slaughterhouse,” depicts a young woman, escaping to her parental home from an abusive relationship. Although the context of the story is haunting, Moores’ omnipotent, first person stylised writing throws you headfirst into the opening sentence, leaving you stunned and almost asphyxiated by the pace and intensity that her writing brings with it. This wouldn’t be so bad, but for the two stories that follow. “The Writer,” by Ellis Sharp is a whirlwind of hallucinations and confusion, caused by the main characters use of Diazepam. What is so striking in this story is Sharp’s complete loss of contact with normality. From the beginning of the story you are taken into a world with two direct paths, one good and one bad, which, after Moores’ opening tale, leaves you – I have to admit – feeling a little bit like you’ve had a bucket of cold water thrown over you. It is not until Adam Marek’s “The Stormchasers” that things calm down, and return to a more conventional style of writing, allowing you to finally catch a breath. Royle has clearly put this anthology together with extreme thought and precision, allowing the stories to flow beautifully into one another. It’s exhilarating to say the least.
For anyone who is keen to venture out into pastures new, this is a great book for opening up a world of upcoming writers, contemporary styles and the short story form in general. Royle states in his introduction that “good writing often involves taking risks,” and maybe thats why this years collection seems to tackle a lot of experimental fiction too. Although every piece may not be everybody’s cup of tea, there is certainly a lot of fresh and new experimental fiction, that could open up the eye of the beholder into a whole new realm of literature.
I think it’s fair to say that this book pushes and prods around in areas of Literature that otherwise may be overlooked, and as such Royle’s collection is a refreshing piece of grounded Literature that will take you on a whirlwind adventure…but maybe not one for the beach.