Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Sunday 25 May 2014

Review: Tales of the Strange and Grim, by Andrew Hall

Tales of the strange and Grim has turned out to be one of those books I have found difficult to stop reading. I confess, I'm a huge fan of short, strange stories, and Andrew Hall has obviously shared some of my influences.

This intriguing collection opens with Mr Volinov, which introduces the reader to Hall's smoothly idiosyncratic writing style: 'In the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was drinking juice.' Not just any juice, mind you, but a patented elixir. For some time, Volinov reaps the benefits of eternal youth, 'a Norse god made of chiselled wood in a torn and bloodied shirt'. However, having sold his belongings (and his soul?) for a second chance at a vigorous life, the question remains unanswered; what next? In Tabitha, an unsuccessful writer gets inspiration from the strangest source imaginable, but perhaps that very inspiration has arrived just a little too late. Next up is George, the fascinating portrait of a tyrant on the English throne; but in this case, a modern-day tyrant and all that entails. The juxtaposition of 21st-century attitudes within an almost medieval framework makes for a thought-provoking and grimly humorous tale.

In what is perhaps my favourite story here, The Feathered Man takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through the underbelly of a poverty-stricken city. Its citizens are terrorised by a 'satanic freak, prowling its towered heights and sewered depths', preying on the 'whores and drunks and criminals'. Acting like some kind of bizarre superhero, however, the Feathered Man soon clears the streets of his very sustenance; and his own success leads to his ultimate downfall. Peace of Cake imagines what might happen if works of art come to life, and what to do with the resulting intrusions into reality. You may not look at a food processor in the same way again... Stonewall is a longer story, almost a novella, in which supernatural elements are blended with traditional storytelling to produce an epic saga involving traitors, knights and tragedy. The final tale, Time Apart, brings us back to the present day. Tom wakes one morning to find he can stop time with the click of his fingers. At first, this seems to have no downside, and he exploits his luck relentlessly. Soon, however, the question must arise; what will happen for the rest of time itself?

This is a vibrant, sharply written collection, full of interesting ideas and wit, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes their entertainment slightly left-of-field. Hall's writing style is ideal for these thought-provoking vignettes, most of which could be expanded upon to great effect; my only criticism is that there could be more of it! I'm glad I discovered this author, and I'll be looking out for anything from his pen in the future.

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