SHORT STORY COLLECTION
The Museum Of Doubt (Rebel Inc £10) James Meek knows a good story when he sees it. And as the one- time Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, he's seen a fair few in the distant corners of the former Soviet Union.
But the tales in The Museum Of Doubt, his second book of short stories, come from somewhere else than the necessities of the journalistic trade. They are stories of Scotland, written with a casually dark hand that is part surreal, part disturbing menace. This unnerving edge is a trademark of his two novels, McFarlane Boils The Sea and Drivetime. But it is difficult to see whether it comes from within the London-born, Dundee-bred, Edinburgh University-educated writer, or the disturbing places he was living in while he wrote this new collection.
'It is more fundamental than that,’ he responds. 'I did learn a lot in the former Soviet Union, I did see some remarkable things, meet some
'Clause 28 debate made people realise that Scotland is not as liberal as they thought'
remarkable people, and have some quite difficult experiences; although nothing as difficult as the people who live there. But it refined and confirmed a lot of the things I thought about life rather than being a complete revelation.
‘The darkness comes from within in the sense that that’s what I see when I look at the world. I see a great deal of beauty, and much kindness and love, but also much unpleasantness and, at the heart of things, this basic absurdity of it all; the comedy of life.’
Unusually for a short story collection, there is an overarching narrative to its structure, as many of the stories feature a senile old man, Gordon, who feels threatened by youth yet covets young girls. The character originally turned up in Meek's first short story collection, Last Orders, but here, his character has become obnoxious to the point of hilarity.
‘I don't know where he comes from,’ says Meek, sounding slightly perturbed. ‘I have never met anyone quite like that, although I have met people with bits of Gordon in them. He is a universal character, though I was a bit concerned about portraying Scotland through this bigoted, sexist, homophobic racist. Yet since I wrote it, we have had this Clause 28 debate which I think has made a lot of people realise that Scotland is not as liberal as they thought. And the notion of community spirit being greater in Scotland than in England may be true, but it cuts both ways: it can be a community of charity, but it can also be of mob rule.’
Skilfully narrated and with a resonant sense of place, James Meek's stories have darkly perceptive observations which the reader can use for their own devices. (Thom Dibdin)
a The Museum Of Doubt is published on Thu 29 Jun.
Wilberforce Road. Finally it was the sight
A vigorous and moving collection
102 THE UST 22 Jun->6 Jul 2000
IC3: The Pen uin Book Of New Blac Writing In Britain
Courttia Newland & Kadija Sesay eds (Hamish Hamilton £9.99)
IC3 takes its curious title from the police identity code for black, the only collective term its editors found 'that defined black British people as a whole’. To its credit, the anthology doesn't lumber itself With the futile task of defining blackness or black Britishness. Instead, through short fiction, essays, poetry and irieirioirs of writers of African descent, it skilfully docmnents the experiences and achievements of the African diaspora in British sooety. DiVicled by generation into explorers, settlers and crusadc-ii's, it includes work from Jackie Kay, Labi Siffre and Benjamin Zephaniah as well as pieces penned by a multitude of lesser-known writers. The contributors' differing backgrounds,
lifestyles and ages (16 to 60), make for a ‘ What next? Dyson is working on his first
refreshingly diverse set of topics and
themes. From Becky Ayebia Clarke's
ponderings on body image and Colin Babb's paean to cricket, through to Leone Ross‘ entertaining account of her adolescent obsession With the artist formerly known as Prince.
Racism, which unfortunately has a
place in any discussion of black experience, is tackled directly by the likes
of Roger Robinson's ’On Being Asked To Write A Poem About The Death Of
Ibrahim Se' and Maureen Roberts' ’The
Way We Were' Both are powerful reminders that in our supposedly multicultural somety, black people continue to suffer and even die at the hands of bigots.
Anthologies can be sketchy affairs, but the quality of writing in IC3 is Superb, Vigorous, thought-provoking, movmg and often humorous. It serves as testament to a wealth of black British writing talent. (Dawn Kofie)
I IC3 is published on Thu 29 Jun.
First writes i
Putting debut writers under the microscope. This issue: Jeremy Dyson
Who he? Jeremy Dyson is the non- performing member of phenomenally successful comedy team, The League Of Gentlemen. Born in Leeds, he studied philosophy at the City's university before movmg to London for an MA in
~ screenwriting. While working at
Waterstone's in Cliaring Cross Road, a chance meeting With author and anthologist Peter Crowther led to the publication of two of his short stories in i a collection called The Blue Hotel. Dyson describes fiction writing as 'an antidote to the process of collaborating With other people'.
His debut It's called Never Trust A Rabbit, a collection of twelve tall tales in which seemineg mundane, everyday occurrences are tWisted beyond recognition. Along the way, we're introduced to a community of weirdies to rival The League’s tranny cabbies, blind photographers and accident-prone vets, including a prophetic cashpOint, a flamboyant Arab prince and a one- armed man Whose flatmate appears to be the Messiah. The book’s title comes from a Hungarian proverb.
Basically . . , Basically, this collection prowdes further confirmation of Dyson's talent for the surreal and the grotesque. Hilarious, disturbing and endlessly unexpected, Dyson's unabashedly strange Vision is irreSIstible,
First paragraph test ’Johnson couldn’t say exactly when it had begun but he knew he was being followed. At first there had been nothing but a slight sensation in the centre of his back. Then the sense that his footsteps had acquued an inappropriate echo in an empty street one night as he walked back to the small basement room be rented on
of the same dark-suited man three times in one day, each time looking shiftier and more furtive than before.’
novel and a Christmas special of teleVision's darkest sitcom.
Never Trust A Rabbit is published by Duc‘k Editions, priced [9.99.