Quite interesting for sociological reasons, and for impressions of these many locations, but ultimately the collection...



A hodge-podge of short fiction by young English writers, gathered “from every corner of the country” to show what Bell and Gay call “a picture of England at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

The editors rightly point to contemporary English fiction’s London bias; it seems that “a novel set in, say, Bradford or Exeter is seen as necessarily provincial and limited.” Their remedy is to provide 24 stories that vividly evoke their settings—from Suffolk to York, Bradford to Brighton, Coventry to Cornwall. But the collection’s diversity is strictly regional; the characters and the subject matter are so similar that the pieces can blur into each other. In David Almond’s “Bleeding Statues,” daft South Shields women get enthused about a Jesus statue that they think is moving, while the detached young narrator knows better. In Joolz Denby’s “The Quick and the Dead 2,” a group of women discuss a murder while a detached young narrator eavesdrops. In Peter Ho Davies’s “Coventry,” a heavy-drinking working-class man gets befriended by an educated but—yes—detached young narrator. The authors’ extreme youth (a glance at the contributors’ list yields birth dates as recent as 1977) may be the cause of such uniformity; it is almost certainly the cause of many of the stories’ contrived use of phonetically rendered dialogue. The clunkiness of a phrase like “Zee ahl right yu reckon?” (in Harland Miller’s “Castle Early”) reveals an almost embarrassing eagerness to be influenced by Irvine Welsh. Yet there's a solid handful of standouts here, including Davies’s aforementioned “Coventry”; Kevin Sampson’s “Black Diamond,” narrated by a foggy-headed Birkendhead barfly; and Julie Burchill’s “By the Sea We Flourish,” depicting a misguided trip to Brighton.

Quite interesting for sociological reasons, and for impressions of these many locations, but ultimately the collection inadvertently paints small-city England as an unvaried and rather grim place.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-575-07127-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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