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I have spent a year wanting this book, I received it yesterday as a birthday present and was absolutely over the moon, I've no idea why I didn't buy it myself, I think it just sounded so interesting and slightly leftfield, that I wanted to wait, and wait, and wait, until I could wait no longer. In a way my desire to wait for the book, is in keeping with the themes of this book, wilful or odd behaviour, which some would question, but which makes sense to the subject, as this book is about love, in all its forms, you will understand what I mean, when I say, its emotive, funny, sad but never boring.
The books cover is a sea of white with 3 characters in masks and one being ostracised, it's a really effective cover and is very thoughtful, it is understated and yet filled with imagery that demands you play your part and concentrate on what it might mean, it is a perfect summation of this wonderful book.
Robert Shearman is an author of some potential, he is a World Fantasy Book award winner, he was actually the writer who reintroduced the Daleks to mainstream television in the Christopher Eccleston led revival of Dr Who, and his books have that same whiff of oddness, in the revival these terribly sinister post-boxes cried out for love, something nobody had ever thought of before and this made for a tense and even emotional episode that cemented their place in many hearts, this book is similar in its journey through some unorthodox stories linked to love.
The book is both ethereal and at times quite disturbing, the imagery can be serene or disgusting, but it is written in such a gentle and relaxed style that even whilst reading it, this doesn't really strike you, it's after you put the book down and think about what you read that you realise this mix of real and macabre makes for such a memorable and slightly off-putting experience.
The synopsis of the book is that it is a collection of 17 short stories which explore love and what this can mean to different people, Shearman doesn't simply write through the eyes of ordinary people he writes through extremely interesting subjects.
Stories that particularly took my interest included that of the Devil, as he writes schlocky romance under an alter-ego which gives him some respite from the dull expanse of his day job, the imagery involved is wonderful, I love the idea that he would have a copy of the holy bible on his shelf just to see what the opposition are up to.
Other standout stories include a man taking a job as a sycamore tree to come off the dole and regain the love and respect of his wife and son. The concept that women can go to the doctor due to hormonal differences from men and have their love for people and things measured, thus their partner knows before marriage what percentage of their heart is his.
Other stories include the tale of giving your heart to 'The One' in Tupperware boxes, or the disappearance of Luxembourg. Of a man whose life revolves around writing love songs, or a pig who falls in love with the original Eve.
The good thing about these tales is that the stories never overrun but in 6-14 pages run the gamut of truth, hilarity and overarching pain and sadness, Shearman really does get a great handle on what love can mean and how it can be both amazing and devastating. The vehicles he uses to tell this offer perfect preposition of his theories. They also grab you, shake you down and make you stop to really think about what you read afterwards.
1. Love Among the Lobelias
3. Sweet Nothings
5. This Creeping Thing
7. Your Long, Loving Arms
8. At the Crease
11. Be of Good Cheer
12. Jolly Roger
14. George Clooney's Moustache
15. Love in a Time of Sharing
16. Not About Love
17. One Last Love Song
The book really does mix things up, 'At the Crease' is an uneasy tale about a father trying to project his failures onto his son, by making him practice cricket non-stop everyday, nothing so odd about this, it happens, but the ways its written is so personal and the mother's reaction is so matter of fact as to be almost planned for years, it is true in every sense and a perfect embodiment of Middle England and what it is to be in a relationship filled with failure. It feels as though this and a couple of the other stories, that are less weird and more based in reality have more personal feels to them, almost as though the author is writing his own feelings rather than those of his mad mix of characters as in the other tales.
One thing I really liked about this book was that Shearman has no problem with going against the grain, the parameters of his characters' lives mean that more often than not these love stories are about love and falling out of it, as much as falling into it, the centrality of this word in our lives means that it is responsible for so many of our decisions and failures, without many of us ever understanding what it is, or what we are meant to do with it. Therefore characters question whether their feelings are love or a desire to love and conform; it makes for some interesting conundrums and makes you really think about each tale.
The stories more often than not have a sad ending, they make you question love and life through surreal situations, the tale of the woman who feels pain through others happiness is a perfect example of this, as is the tale of Luxembourg disappearing, the country that nobody really has much time for is a metaphor for the sad, middle of the road characters within the story.
The stories are perfectly weighted, some have hope, some are devoid of hope, however even at their oddest, the language is down to earth and makes it seem possible, even if it is talk of flying rabbits or possessive dead cats. The book is brilliantly written, a subject is subtle and never overplayed and the surrealism of certain tales weighs heavily to the writers benefit as he can bring out emotion from the tales in a way that could appear slightly silly in real life.
One of my favourite lines is about a selfish man complaining that his wife was beheaded by terrorists, in an incident totally going against her character, because he was the interesting one in their relationship. He then gripes about how his wife's celebrity. When her father declares that he hopes she died quickly, the husband replies that his wife was a game woman and had that peculiarly English mannerism of waiting in line, so rather than panic would have queued patiently to be beheaded, this image alone is shocking but the manner in which it is told is slightly funny, it is odd and the story develops from this, but as with all the other tales, it never takes the easy option and the descriptions of people are exceptional, both funny and sad.
It's almost like Alan Bennett mixed with Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy at times, light, funny in parts and heart-breaking in others, the themes of loss and love that has faded away are central to the stories and come back more often than not, there are even tales about a writer of short stories, which becomes incredibly deep in a Charlie Kauffman, introspective way.
Shearman includes a tale of his own visit to an awards ceremony and mercilessly mocks this book, explaining how it is a vacuous and mildly odd attempt to explain something which a short story never could, he comes across as knowing, without wanting to mess with the readers heads and offers his own take on what these stories mean to him, which is enriching and offers more food for thought.
The characters are real, in an unreal world. They can start as nice and sympathetic and end up as horrible messes who you want to fail, or be heartless and loveless, but have hope, the writing really twists and turns and involves the reader, which I found enthralling and really made me miss the book when I finished it. I want to read it again as like a really good film, I think I will find new perspective from a second read. I took the characters to be extensions of their tales of love, as one thing all of these tales tell is that love can change, adapt and
The stories are all short enough to be read in small periods, but for such short works, they are absorbing and grab your attention quickly, I loved that I could finish a wonderful tale, have a break and then read another in my own time, the writing has to be exceptional to grab you and involve you in six pages, and it is utterly absorbing and exceptional in every sense.
In essence, for anyone who likes Tim Burton, League of Gentleman, Chris Morris or anything where humour can be tinged with failure and darkness, this is truly an exceptional book. It rightly won awards and will continue to do so.
The book lays out stories displaying a variety of types of love, it rarely judges and doesn't come to solid conclusions it simply puts these things out there. The book is weird and beautiful, it is sad and uplifting. At times it does feel as though the writer hates love and lovers with some of the vitriolic tales, but this is not true, he simply sets out to show what it can do to people, how it can be totally misunderstood and why we need or crave it to get by.
There isn't a weak story amongst them and each is memorable in a different way, there are no 'traditional' love stories simply takes on how people deal with the beginnings, aftermath or death of love, these are dark, at times wonderfully imaginative and always well thought through tales, that have a close enough link to reality to remain real and relevant in worlds that are slightly, just ever so, different to our own.
The book is available on Amazon for £6.99, I had terrible trouble when I initially went looking for it even in Waterstones and Hatchards it was hard to find, but this is definitely worth seeking out, I can't wait to read 'Tiny Deaths' now as this writer is special, and definitely somebody I want to read a lot more from.