An expedition to Mars goes terribly wrong. A seaside pier collapses. A 30-stone man is confined to his living room. One woman is abandoned on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. Another woman is saved from drowning. Two boys discover a gun in a shoebox. A group of explorers find a cave of unimaginable size deep in the Amazon jungle. A man shoots a stranger in the chest on Christmas Eve.
In this first collection of stories by the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon demonstrates two things: first that he is a master of the short form (several of the stories have been longlisted for prizes); second that his imagination is even darker than we had thought.
©2016 Mark Haddon (P)2016 Random House Audiobooks
Without exception, the short stories within this collection are very well written. They are also superbly read. They all deal with death and usually with the collapse of a life; describing the decline that can affect anyone, however confident or otherwise they may appear, detailing the small, seamless steps towards oblivion. These stories span sci-fi and the supernatural, but are mostly set in a mundane, suburban setting. They are narratives of ordinary lives turned upside down, usually with an odd twist.
I cannot deny their crafted and absorbing power, but I have to say I have never found a book so desolate, so devoid of hope and so utterly depressing.
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
These nine electrifyingly real, detailed, shocking and disturbing long-short-stories reveal a horribly dark side to, well, everything. I wonder from what kind of imagination Mark Haddon incubates these scenarios? An appendix operation and a birth in graphic detail on board a space mission which has gone hideously wrong; the gradual disintegration of a seaside pier pulling down stricken and floundering human victims; the minutiae of a young woman cleaning up a friendless, hugely obese man. The one I found most gut-wrenchingly ghastly (there was keen competition) was the boys lugging home in a pram a mutilated deer which they had killed and hauling into the lift.
The stories aren't just about disturbing scenarios, however. They explore themes such as loneliness and isolation, particularly within families with remarkable sharpness and visual detail. There are unhappy and broken relationships (Carole returns 'home' from America after such a relationship to help her hostile sister tend their elderly mother who's suffering from dementia - although you feel her mother would have told her daughter she hated her because all she saw in her was Carole's father even if she'd been of sound mind.) There is the present haunted by the inescapable past. Wodwo re-works Gawain and the Green Knight when an armed intruder bursts into an already awful extended family Christmas resulting in violence that will be revenged.
These stories dip in and out of raw social commentary, morality tales and myth, although I must admit that The Island about a princess in a tapestry left me confused. Don't expect anything like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, except perhaps for Haddon's skill at entering into the lives and minds of unusual people in unusual situations. Don't expect to be entertained or your spirits lifted, but be drawn into a network of startling stories you won't forget in a hurry.
A beautifully observed novel of short stories, an amazing array of topics are covered, so there is something for everyone to enjoy. Highly recommended.
Completely gripping stories
No. But each story is best read in a sitting.
'Bunny' and 'The Gun' were my favourite stories - the latter one of my favourite stories full stop.
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