Tuesday 16 February 2016

Glimmer - review

GlimmerGlimmer by Nicola McDonagh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m pleased to find myself reviewing another short story collection. Not long ago, the short story was a dying breed and it is so good to see quality short fiction hitting the shelves. Glimmer is a short collection of just seven stories, each one a gem.

The first story is itself called Glimmer which is a shrewd title for a powerful narrative that presents the reader with an unreliable narrator, but no way to tell how unreliable, all we get are the glimmers of her life.

The Reclaimed Merman starts with an encounter on a beach. It’s a tale that unfolds in quite unexpected ways. As with all the stories in this collection, beautiful imagery is woven in, but it’s not there for the sake of it, it isn’t background painted for the reader, every word pulls its weight in moving the story on. It’s only when you emerge at the end that you realise you weren’t actually on the beach with the breeze in your hair, looking in on Dys and her creations. Very cleverly done.

Scarecrow is told from the viewpoint of a little girl, Katy, and retains the simplicity of the 10-year-old’s outlook on life, but as the story unfolds, layers of complexity show behind the apparently straightforward sequence of events.

On the Eighth Day is a real gem of a tale. From the start there is a compelling sense of secrets to uncover, something about to happen, but it’s never quite what you expect as the denouement approaches and the truth gradually dawns.

Daub, the story that follows, shares a physical artefact with the previous tale, though it’s a completely different topic and style. It is this that makes me wonder suddenly how this diverse set of stories holds together so well. It’s not by anything as explicit as a common theme, it is these small touches and far more subtle.

Earnest Thirk, the next in the sequence, starts with an image of a liquid sky then gives us Lola and a sense of imprisonment, once again painting an intriguing scene making it impossible not to read on.

The collection ends with Rousseau’s Suburban Jungle that begins in the apparently mundane setting of a charity shop and goes on to chart the life of a disabled woman who loves to paint.

One thing above all else sets these stories out as special; apparently commonplace settings and events become unique and compelling because of the way the author gets inside the heads of her characters and shows us their exclusive world view.

McDonagh is a true wordsmith with the ability to paint a vivid picture in just a few well-chosen words. As I was reading Glimmer, I felt a hint of that true master of the short story, Shirley Jackson. Highly recommended.

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