In each of these ten tales, 'hate' is a term Crisp directs at us, the reader, from the outset. Except in truth it precedes a self-deprecating black humour that undercuts - surely intentionally - his true status as a disappointed romantic. Imagine Dylan Moran channelling Philip K. Dick, or Robert Newman, Alfred Bester, and you have a writer of passions, writing of passions thwarted.
The feeling of sexual inadequacy and the consequences of the bitterness it can provoke is one predominant theme. In the opener,
'Troubled Joe,' the ghost of a suicide is eternally feted to return at the strike of four (pm) to relive his lifelong loneliness unless he can atone in the only way he knows how. A chance seems to arise in the form of a couple in first love.
'A Cup Of Tea' brilliantly evokes a day of circuitous despair in long-term unemployment for those of an artistic temperament. (Too close for comfort).
'Asking For It' follows a loner's thought process in how he might get his own back on a beautiful girl who pointedly ignores him. The shock lies in what happens when - for once - he defies his usual fear.
The intriguingly titled 'The Fox Wedding' explores a boy's erotic
inadequacy as some kind of Lafcadio Hearn - Geisha nightmare.
Then there is self-knowledge achieved through a variety of landscapes. 'Ynys-y-Plag' is exemplary, succeeding as a new classic of the uncanny. Presented as a long observational foreword to a twilit sequel of a popular photographic collection, its big success has somehow left its photographer-narrator bereft. Needing new inspiration, he relates how he left his comfort zone of choice landscapes by pinning a location on a map, with eyes closed. (So finding the Welsh town of the title). What follows is a gradually accumulating mystery; of the woodland bwg and the psychological trauma experienced by those who encounter it. The longest of the tales, it is a slowburner that ultimately delivers.
'The Were-Sheep of Abercrave,' by contrast, is an entertaining piss-take; both by the author and his narrator of the tale's second half, asked to explain - by the first-half narrator - the 'true' nature of the large black sheep whose ominous gaze he repeatedly encounters.
A Japanese scholar, Crisp's influence thus encompasses 'Karakasa'; where, ninety years in the future, a commuter finds a museum of 1997 antiquities and ponders upon the value of natural entropy in a new world of holographic perfection where no one questions its pre-eminence.
'Mise en Abyme' - not unlike Henry Whitehead's 'The Trap' (12th
October review) - involves the exploration of a mirror from within.
Only here it occurs in response to a rather more direct invitation.
'Italianetto' is very much atypical; a love letter to a boyhood aunt,
only to be rediscovered in adulthood as a famous film star. The upbeat, naive and shiny evocation of an endless summer childhood beams as a beacon amidst the much darker introspections.
In 'Suicide Watch' the narrator is forced to re-evaluate his own fatalistic motives when invited to help a mutual friend in need. It is appropriate that this tale ends the collection on a note of self-realisation.
Don't believe from this you will be left feeling as down. There's an
emotional honesty in the voice ensuring his metaphors lack cliche.
This collection may not appeal if you are a totally grounded careerist, blissfully happy with your 2.4 children and a mortgage. But if this is so, then why are you still reading?