Monday, June 15, 2015

REVIEW: ENGLAND AND OTHER STORIES



This collection of short stories is the second one by Graham Swift, a London-based writer who has won top literary prizes in his thirty-five-year publishing history. His novel Ever After (1992) took the French Prix de Meilleur Livre √Čtranger; Last Orders (1996) won the Booker Prize.

England and Other Stories presents an unsettling look into current life in that country and at human lives in general. These tales focus on the absurdities of everyday happenings and the shakiness of our beliefs. Stylistically, these stories' brevity–six to eight pages, on average–and casual tone amplify the existential themes.

For example, in "Remember This," we see snippets of a marriage: its beginning and its end (in divorce). Nick secretly writes a love letter to Lisa on their honeymoon, because he's drawn to record how momentous the event is for him. Part of Nick's furtive note reads, "I never thought something so wonderful could happen to me. You are the love of my life. Remember this always. Whatever comes, remember this ..."

Intending that Lisa never see the letter, Nick finds it years later, when the grind of career and child-raising has affected the marriage; the couple is now separated, possibly about to be divorced. Standing at the bathroom mirror, Nick chastises himself for being a romantic fool. He can't part, however, with the long-ago record of his love for Lisa.

Shifting from personal issues to national ones, the book's title story "England" opens with Ken, a middle-aged coastguard in Somerset County, driving to work before dawn. He comes across Jonny Dewhurst–black Caribbean immigrant and stand-up comedian–sleeping in a car beside a country road, and the two have a long conversation over coffee. Their talk ended, Ken realizes that Jonny–the "foreigner," the "alien"–has seen more of England, and understands more about the country, than he himself ever will in his closed provincial life.

"England" is a sobering tale, like many of these stories. Often, after reading one of them, I was discomfited, my mind turning questions over and over. For readers looking for short fiction that packs a psychological punch, England Other Stories won't disappoint.


Bob Young’s short stories have been published in the literary journals Other Voices, Postscripts to Darkness, and Great Lakes Review. He has completed his first novel, a mystery that partially involves the Grand River land dispute of 2006-07, and he’s currently submitting it to literary agents. Any takers? Visit his website: rbyoung.ca

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