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Serpent's Tail paperback £8.99
review by Christopher Teague
It is said that the short story does not sell; that collections and anthologies are difficult to market to a fickle reading public. If this is the case, then a collection from an "assiduous champion of the short story" should be welcomed and cherished, and with this from Nicholas Royle it comes recommended, but with reservations.
First impressions: the cover isn't exactly appealing; it could be me, but I cannot guess at the link between an orange-haired slightly out of focus plastic mannequin and 'mortality'? Personally, it looks like something anyone with a modicum of Photoshop knowledge and a cheap throwaway digital camera could have knocked together in 15 minutes.
Anyway, the stories, which are the most important things to any collection: Royle is without doubt a superb writer; the quality of the prose upon the pages faultless; whether he describes Manchester, London, Amsterdam or Naples, you the reader are there with the protagonist. One presumes that Royle is a well-travelled individual, for Flying Into Naples (to name but one) reads almost like a travelogue, and I wonder if Royle has ever contemplated penning such a book?
As I stated in the opening paragraph, this book should be cherished, but with reservations, for the majority of the fictions within the collection are of the 'new weird' / slipstream variety, with a handful reprinted from Interzone and Dark Terrors 2. Slipstream is a genre that I don't entirely get along with; occasionally, I believe the weirdness infringes upon the narrative of the story, to the point where I lose interest. This happened several times whilst I read this book. This is no indictment on the quality of the writing, far from it, but my own interests.
The tales themselves comprise vignettes of ordinary life, just that little bit off-centre; one or two, especially The Space-Time Discontinuum (which was published in an architecture anthology) lapses wildly into the surreal, which if in the hands of a lesser-writer would have ended a total mess, but Royle handles the switching of locale within, wonderfully, to create a rather dizzying story.
I cannot say this collection is bad, for it is plainly not - the writing is just too good - but the majority of stories just didn't resonate with me, and I know that makes me sound like Tom Paulin (and I promised myself never to use the word 'resonate' but unfortunately it was the only word that came to mind).
If you are a fan of Nicholas Royle, then buy this book; if you are a fan of short fiction in general, buy it too, but don't blame me if turns out that slipstream just isn't your cup of tea.
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