Sunday 30 June 2013

Nesting by David Almond, Iron Press

Nesting collects a majority of independently-published tales by which Almond first cut his professional teeth, last reissued in his first two Iron Press collections; Sleepless Nights in 1985 and A Kind of Heaven in 1997.
  The cover's sub-heading, "stories for adults from the best-selling author of  Skellig," feels something of a misnomer.  The simplicity of style, description confined to present or past-present tense action, with few sentences exceeding ten words, instantly evokes Almond's subsequent work for the 11-14 market.  This is no poor thing when communicating the often difficult, half-articulated tensions depicted between parents and offspring, running through this new collection, played out in thirteen darkly reflective tales set amongst the author's Tyneside youth; although it also somehow limits its otherwise  authentic period detail required by a broader readership, which - where it is utilised - he convincingly evokes.
  There are welcome glimpses of the uncanny amongst the tarmacadam tones.  The double-life - both inner and outer - from formative traumas deeply repressed is a linking theme. In 'A Kind of Heaven,' a desperate, possibly psychotic ex-squaddie-turned-street performer becomes a focus of unspoken, masochistic fascination for a questioning, troubled son and an equivalent amount in guilt from his father.
  A variant on the theme continues in a performing 'child' whose singular deformity is used to fairground effect in 'Concentric Circles.'  In 'Spotlight,' a playground game enacted after dark intimates an indefinable sense of threat to the parents by the boy's beckoning and hungry school friends.
  There are also, unexpectedly, a pleasing pair of Eastern-style fables.  In 'The Snake Charmer,' another street-performer appears to meet his mystical match, while 'The Eye of God' concerns religious interpretation and how it can be skewed, even for a devout believer in the power of words.  In 'After the Abandoned Wharves,' a postman on his regular round of an increasingly rundown estate privately vows to exact revenge upon those he sees has allowed this situation to accrue.
  The title story is almost a parable on the 1984-5 miners strike. A young 'twitcher' recounts how his father, being unable to accept his employer's new terms and conditions, would otherwise be forced to break his familial promises to his son and change their way of life forever.  The egg-collecting metaphor here is clear but carefully handled.
  So, the unforeseen hardship engendered in keeping one's word could be considered a third theme that convincingly unites both collections.  As such, this is a moral, but never moralising, collection, harbouring enough objective space in its sparse, tight prose for the uncanny reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

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                                              ALBERTINE'S WOOERS

The Grimscribe's Puppets collection is out now in paperback from Miskatonic River Press (US), described as "a homage to one of the Grandmasters of Weird Fiction - Thomas Ligotti," and featuring both known and upcoming talents in the genre, Darrell Schweitzer, Scott Nicolay, Daniel Mills, Allyson Bird, Richard Gavin, Simon Strantzas and others.  Graced by an outstanding cover, John Howard's Written By Daylight is out now in hardback from Swan River Press.  Sundial Press have just re-released retro-classic, The Alabaster Hand in h/b intriguingly described thus: "...It is arguable...that no author has come closer to inheriting the mantle of the great (M.R.) James than ghost story writer Alan Noel Latimer Munby (1913-74). 'The Alabaster Hand' was largely written to pass the time away while Munby was a German POW at Eichstatt in Upper Franconia from 1943-45." Finally, Dedalus European Classics 3rd edition of Stefan Grabinski's The Dark Domain is - after a short delay - now available, also with a striking new cover.

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