If you follow me on Twitter or are a regular reader of the blog you will know that over the past year or so I have been drawn further and further into the web of short fiction. So when Reflex Press approached me about Emily Bullock’s new collection Human Terrain I was very excited to get my hands on a copy.
Human Terrain is a collection of 20 short stories, some almost flash length, which concentrate very much on the human condition; on those things that motivate and bind us. The things that both hold us back and drive us forward.
Within these pages are snapshots of lives. From an elderly man revisiting his childhood home, to the young girls groomed by extremists; we move seamlessly from the everyday to the extreme. And whatever the focus, the content or the characters each story is as vivid and alive with connections as the next. No setting feels mundane, no seems character forced or unbelievable. Here is a writer who has harnessed, embraced and extended the human spirit in multitude ways, harnessing each stories energy and going where it might take her.
Diversity and adversity run through this collection like welcome silver threads. We meet characters who are up against it, who are doing what they need to do to survive both physically and emotionally. We witness self destruction and self awareness in equal measure, but we are invited to view them through a three dimensional, empathetic lens.
This is a sparkling collection with humanity at it’s heart. Beautifully balanced and constructed, it is a perfect short story collection.
Life at the moment in our household feels a bit crazy. There has been work stuff, exam stuff, self isolation stuff. A whole lot of stuff going on!
I have been reading to escape the world and I seem to have accumulated quite a backlog of reviews. I have read some cracking stuff recently and so I don’t want to miss anything out when time is short so…
I though I would have a go at my first Triple Decker Review!
Which is a fancy way of saying ‘three reviews’ in one blog post!
The three books in question are all different in subject matter but definitely all have some deliciously dark themes and over tones.
So, first up is Come Closer by Sara Gran. First published in 2003, it became a cult classic and was rereleased in the UK by Faber and Faber on 1st July this year. Huge thanks to Josh Smith for my review copy.
It is easy to see why this book became a classic. From the off you are grabbed by the throat and pulled into the world of Amanda and the strange things that are happening to her. Married, with a good job and a busy life, Amanda suddenly finds herself plagued by a strange tapping in her apartment. But this is just the beginning…
Amanda herself begins to change. The way she dresses, the choices she makes, the thoughts she has and the things she says.; they all begin to morph into something quite removed from her original character. It seems that Amanda may have been possessed.
This novel is short, dark and terrifying. It’s like a ride that you can’t get off and the horror film you can’t look away from. It leaves you with a hundred questions and the answers are not as obvious as they seem. Devoured in 24 hours, I loved it!
Next up, The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson. Thanks you Jordon Taylor-Jones at Dead Ink for sending me a copy.
Continuing the theme of dark, let’s step into the dystopian world so skilfully created within this book. Where AI robots are embedded into society and divides between those who are born and those who are created have begun to threaten stability and peace.
Our narrator is Sylv.ie, a humanoid pleasure doll, created to serve her husband and her husband alone. But Sylv.ie’s systems are advanced and complex and the lines between human and machine are already becoming blurred. When Sylv.ie over steps the line in her home she find she has no choice but to leave. And a whole new world is revealed.
This is a complex and fascinating read which raises a whole host of questions. Questions that range from what makes us human, to considerations about the future of AI and the ethics around it’s use in society. This is one that will provoke any number of discussions and deserves to become both a feminist and dystopian classic.
And finally, continuing the dystopian theme let me intro you to AccidentalFlowers by Lily Peters. A novel written in a series of short stories, it was published last month the wonderful Arachne Press. I jumped at the chance when offered a copy by Sara Aspinall and I am so glad I did.
Set in the near future this is book with a heavy emphasis on the impact of Climate Change. Told in four sections the author begins with the subtle but deadly changes that occur in the UK environment , moving onto what the world looks like after the sea levels have risen and the rains have fallen.
This is a world of displaced people, where only a chosen few are safe, living in the great towers that dominate the skyline. Places in The Towers are awarded both by perceived usefulness and lottery, but life within them is strange and run by a series of complex rules.
It is world where those living outside the Towers are forced to scavenge and loot and the time before is but a distant and devastating memory.
This novel is a warning. It is filled with fragments of lives torn apart and people displaced, trying to come to terms with a reality they refused to believe in and ignored for too long. It’s familiar North East setting makes it all the more relatable and unsettling, forcing the reader to think the unthinkable.
It is a powerful collection of humanity and prose. Possibly not an easy read but I would say essential.
So there ends my first Triple Decker! Huge thanks to all the authors, publishers and publicists who have kindly shared their work with me. I am forever grateful.
This week sees the long anticipated publication of Animal by Lisa Taddeo, by Bloomsbury. It follows the success of her 2019 release Three Women; a work of nonfiction that detailed and examined the sexual and emotional lives of three women living in the USA. Three Women was a book filled with insight, hard truths and untapped emotion.
In many ways Animal has many of the same qualities. The biting intelligence and sense of raw perspective is present throughout this novel, as is the unguarded examination of a women’s sexual and emotional choices. But nothing you have read before will quite prepare you for meeting Joan.
The novel opens in New York City, and the suicide of a lover. It is bloody, brutal and public. One lover shoots himself in front of Joan and her other lover. So the scene is set.
Both Joan and the story move painfully and at pace, trying to escape the horrors of the immediate and distant past. Final destination: California. And while Joan is running away from the past, she is also running towards it. Heading to meet the shadowy Alice.
Here among the dust, the heat and crucially the circling coyotes, Joan starts anew. But life it seems is finally catching up with her. From the outset we are aware that Joan’s life is unorthodox, unstable and filled with trauma. Her parents loom large in her life. Both died when she was young and the manner of her death stalks her lived experience. It is never far from the decisions she makes.
Joan’s life is marked by her relationships. Her sexual relationships with men, in which she seeks both comfort and revenge, and which ultimately leave her hollow. Her relationships with women are complex and often filled with regret. All roads seem to lead back to her parents. It’s a truth that could seem clinched. But it never does. It feels honest, brutal and ultimately real.
Joan is our narrator, our guide and she leads us over some pretty bleak terrain. She is often hard to trust, hard to like and at times abandoning yourself to her damaged hands can feel terrifying. The scent of blood lingers on Joan, growing stronger as the story unfolds. And like the coyotes, the past is moving in.
This is a novel where the boundaries are blurred. It’s is a landscape filled with sharp edges and sudden drops. You aren’t meant to to feel comfortable here. You are meant to feel alive, you are meant to be in your guard.
It is a novel that is alive with the effects of trauma, it bubbles and boils with pain and the ways we deal with disturbing and life altering events. Sex in this both is complex and ever present. Sometimes a security blanket, some times a weapon and more often than not a punishment.
Animal is unforgettable. It is raw, it is dark and it is not for the faint hearted. I wanted to devour this novel, but the story itself had other ideas. It is a tale too rich, too spicy to be rushed. You need to take it in steady gulps and let each one digest.