ENGLISH MAGIC by Uschi Gatward (Galley Beggar, £9.99, 200 pp)
by Uschi Gatward (Galley Beggar, £9.99, 200 pp)
The boundary between the earthly and the eerie is thin in this, Uschi Gatward’s uneasy, excellent debut collection.
The spare, quietly unsettling stories range from the political (both historical and contemporary) to the present-day personal.
But all hint at hidden agendas or ancient pagan rituals as the characters head to rainy, wind-lashed beaches (On Margate Sands) or linger at a May Day festival, an outing which becomes increasingly sinister as the day darkens to night (Beltane). In Oh Whistle And, a cast of characters, known only by letters of the alphabet, are caught in a web of suspicion and (justifiable) paranoia as they swap phone sims, communicate in code or go about their daily business blissfully unaware of the state surveillance that is seemingly tracking their interactions.
It’s an atmosphere that also pervades the opening story, The Clinic, where a family decide to abscond to the wild to protect their bright, beloved child from the dystopian city.
While in Samhain, with pumpkins on windowsills and an enticing pile of apples and gold chocolate coins in the hallway, a woman in a witch’s hat welcomes a trick-or-treating toddler dressed as a conker, with the greeting ‘I’ve been waiting for you’ . . . and holds the door open.
SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT edited by Mikka Haugaard (Everything With Words £16.99, 276 pp)
SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT
edited by Mikka Haugaard (Everything With Words £16.99, 276 pp)
The editor Mikka Haugaard has a passion for short stories, and the economical way they compress a wide range of emotion and experience in a scant few pages.
Here, her 18 well-chosen stories, loosely based on the idea of solitude, explore loss, loneliness and love, and head from the wilds of the Northern Rockies with an ailing father and an intrepid grieving daughter (Leadfall by D. W. Wilson) to the cable-tangled, neon-jagged streets of Bangkok where, in Stephen Thomas’s titular story, a traveller watches the world and thinks the setting is strange to her, but her thoughts are inescapably familiar.
Elsewhere, there’s a glorious argument for the fairytale Rapunzel being the third choice of book on Desert Island Discs, alongside the Bible and The Complete Works Of Shakespeare (If I Had Only One Story To Read by Felicity Marsh). In Peter Blair’s Left-Handed Jumpers, a woman whose husband has been killed ‘by the Brits sent to lift him’ knits Aran crewnecks in flecked peat yarn with different length sleeves for internees in Long Kesh prison, because, the narrator speculates, ‘she wanted violent men to be unusually conscious of their hands’.
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