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Archive by tag: Christopher ShrimptonReturn
Jun 23, 2022

Wood’s unnerving fourth novel follows young siblings from borstal to living on a farm in 50s England

“Was this how it was going to be for ever?” wonders Joyce Savigear, facing another afternoon of drudgery at EH Lacey’s department store in postwar Maidstone, Kent. Joyce is 16 and at a crossroads. Before her is mysterious Mal Duggan, looking invitingly up from the driving seat of a Daimler; behind her are endless hours of folding womenswear and polishing counters. “How much worse off would she be if she went driving with a stranger for a while?”

In due course, Joyce finds out, and Benjamin Wood’s latest novel, The Young Accomplice, is set in motion by the choice she makes. It is a choice that leads to a period in borstal for her and her younger brother, Charlie, developing into a story of opportunity, education and escaping the past. Like Wood’s previous novel, A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better, it concerns malign or misguided father figures, and the necessity of learning from mistakes.

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Mar 18, 2022

Animals, ghosts, humans, mountains and clouds share the narrative in this playful, deeply felt portrait of Catalonia and its people

“The story of one is the story of us all,” say the mushrooms. When I Sing, Mountains Dance, the second novel by Catalan writer and artist Irene Solà, is nothing if not inclusive: men, women, children, ghosts, witches, dogs, deer, mountains, clouds, even mushrooms, all get a chance to tell their tales.

And these stories are all connected. Set among the villages, forests and rivers of the Pyrenees, the book builds a layered history of the area while focusing primarily on one family. There are four sections, each with four or five stories. These stories skip between the viewpoints of inhabitants past and present; animal, vegetable or mineral. Historical wounds echo into the present; personal traumas carry down the years; folk memories live on in the landscape. Through it all the mushrooms continue to grow: “Because,” they say, “there is no beginning and no end.”

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Feb 03, 2022

This slim comic debut about an estranged family and a bodybuilding father is a striking study of failure

“Oh, nice!” says a father to his son when he learns a package has arrived for him. The son asks what it is. “Well, ha, ha, you’re probably going to think your old man’s lost his damned mind. It’s called Finaplix. Trenbolone acetate. It’s a cattle steroid. They give it to heifers to beef them up before slaughter.”

The father doesn’t have an appointment at an abattoir but with a photographer, who will capture him smothered in baby oil “half-snarling and half-beaming” in black bikini briefs as he poses for the final stage of the Body You Choose competition. At the age of 55, he has become a bodybuilder. If the son thinks he has lost his mind, he keeps it to himself.

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Feb 05, 2021

This picaresque tale of a naive young monk who leaves a trail of destruction during the Black Death shows that it is possible to find humour in a pandemic

If you see Brother Diggory coming, head in the opposite direction. For he brings the good Lord’s word and also the plague. It is 1349 and the Black Death has reached Britain and Ireland. Brother Diggory is a 16-year-old novice of the Order of Odo (followers of Saint Odo the Ugly, also known as the Dingy Brothers) who, on losing his brother monks to the pestilence but mysteriously surviving himself, sets forth into the world to see what he has been missing.

Like Christopher Wilson’s previous novels such as The Ballad of Lee Cotton and The Zoo, Hurdy Gurdy is a black comedy narrated by a naive outsider. We follow Brother Diggory over the course of a year as he journeys across England attempting to help those he meets. Disasters accumulate. “I think myself a fortunate man,” he says serenely. And it’s true that while he is ill treated by his fellows – robbed, assaulted, imprisoned – they tend to come off worse from the meeting. Diggory accidentally kills two consecutive wives: the first he gives the plague, the second he finishes off with amateur brain surgery. Even his pet rat, Brother Rattus, doesn’t survive the friendship.

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Oct 22, 2020

Vinegar-sharp ghost stories play with the hold that technology has over all of us

John Lanchester’s first collection of short stories begins with a lesson in etiquette. “You aren’t allowed to ask for the Wi-Fi password before you say hello,” says the narrator to his nine year old son. “It’s simply one of the rules.”

Reality, and Other Stories is a collection of eight contemporary ghost stories, with the horror stemming from the irresistible power that technology has over us. In real life we are obsessed, distracted, impolite, floating through a world of unravelling human bonds and never-ending notifications. Could fiction be worse?

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Jul 08, 2020

The shadow of the Southern Gothic imbues this debut novel with a subtle sense of foreboding

August, the eponymous hero of Callan Wink’s debut novel, receives his fair share of unwanted advice. Mostly from other men, mostly about women. He does his level best to forget it all and strike out on his own.

Like Wink’s previous stories, August is set in the open expanse of the American midwest. It begins on the family dairy farm and follows characters from his short story “Breatharians” – teenage August, father Darwin, and mother Bonnie. His father wants him to carry on at the farm; his mother wants him to go to college. Young Augie is happy with his job killing stray cats, a dollar a tail.

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