Book reviews: No Alibis' Still Worlds Turning stories sure to dirty up your head
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Still Worlds Turning is published by No Alibis Press, priced £14.99
THE first short story collection from Belfast's No Alibis Press presents 20 bite-sized tales from emerging authors and established names. Well-known local contributors include Jan Carson, Lucy Caldwell, Wendy Erskine and June Caldwell – the latter's introduction an arresting ode to the ever evolving short story form and the way the really good ones 'dirty up' your head: Still Worlds Turning delivers on that front, repeatedly. From Belfast to Bolivia and beyond, these stories will transport the reader to memorable places and interesting headspaces; Gerard McKeown's darkly comic workplace fantasy in Detachment, country road tripping with Factory freaks in Andy Warhol's Assistant by Michael Holloway, the grief-blasted muteness of Sing To Me by Louise Farr, Sam Thompson's nightmarish vision of family/mental dysfunction in Seaside Gothic, a grim barroom retelling of worker exploitation in Michael Bourke's The Hands of The Andes. An irresistibly moreish collection, Still Worlds Turning makes for ideal holiday reading – just try not to forget to put it down once in a while.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99)
SOMETIMES difficult, most times beautiful, this debut novel from American poet Ocean Vuong sucks up the pain of being 'other', of immigration, trauma and loss, and use it to compose a moving, glittering letter from a son to a mother. Little Dog and his mum – who is free with her hands, but fierce with her love – have their history in Vietnam, but in America, it's Little Dog who is called on to speak for them both. His English words provide opportunity and challenge, as Vuong explores how language structures the world around us and can be used to protect as well as harm. Addiction, friendship and gentleness in the face of seemingly relentless harshness wind through the pages as Little Dog grows up, and finds ways to articulate his past and present. Although some of the relationships are difficult to read – the sadness and inevitability can get the better of you at times, direct, touching, stunningly wrought, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is still staggeringly good.
After The End by Clare Mackintosh is published in hardback by Sphere, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99)
CLARE Mackintosh's deeply moving tale follows two parents, husband and wife Pip and Max, who are faced with an unimaginable decision which they can't agree on: Should they follow their doctors' advice to end their son's medical treatment, or not? It's cleverly split into two books – Before and After – and leaves no emotion unturned as it explores the consequences of both outcomes, jumping between two narratives to give glimpses of the couple's possible futures. With each page your heart will break for these two highly realistic characters, probably heightened by knowing that it was inspired by real-life events – in 2006, the author and her husband were faced with the choice of whether to keep their critically ill son alive, or to remove his life support. While there's no denying this is a relentlessly sad novel – it's far from an easy read – you will feel uplifted by the end.
Everything You Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma is published in hardback by Viking, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
EVERYTHING You Ever Wanted puts Fleabag-style millennial angst alongside a healthy dose of Black Mirror-esque science fiction. Iris, a woman in her late 20s, is dissatisfied with her advertising job and feels inadequate next to the glossy Instagram updates of her peers. She jumps at the chance to join a colony on the far-flung planet Nyx, and the latter half of the story shows the reader her life there. The structure feels a little lopsided, moving abruptly from a painfully real depiction of earth-life to the oddly subdued horror of life on Nyx. The ending also leaves us with several frustratingly unanswered questions. But the approach to themes such as social media and work culture feel fresh and leave the reader wondering whether life would be any better on another planet.
I Will Not Be Erased by gal-dem is published in paperback by Walker Books, priced £7.99 (ebook £5.45)
HOW readers respond to I Will Not Be Erased – an anthology of stories from gal-dem, a magazine penned by young, female and non-binary people of colour – depends as much on them as what's on the page. The book says it's aimed primarily at women of colour – to help them feel the titular visibility their demographics are so often denied. Readers from other backgrounds may not connect so viscerally with the personal stories of racism, growth and hardship, but all colours and creeds can appreciate the humanity and wit with which these courageous lades face down adversity. Topics range from those familiar to most teens, such as drugs and school bullies, to the more shocking and unique. The 'letter to myself' format starts to feel slightly stale by the 14th outing, and the stories themselves can feel a touch repetitive, but the book relies on its relationship with its readers. There's plenty to admire, whether eye-opening parables on prejudice, or unexpected dollops of humour.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Paninis Of Pompeii by Andy Stanton is published in paperback by Egmont, priced £6.99
WHILE this story and Andy Stanton's writing style may be a bit silly for most adult readers, it is likely to be a massive hit with its target audience. Like Stanton's Mr Gum series of stories, The Paninis Of Pompeii is aimed at seven-to-12-year-olds, but was a huge hit with my six-year-old who giggled his way through the book when we read it together. When I asked him what he thought of the first few chapters, his eyes lit up and he chuckled as he said: "It was lots of fun." He wanted to read it every night and we soon finished all 148 pages. The silly stories and frequent mentions of farts really seem to appeal to young readers and anything which gets children to enjoy reading can only be a good thing.
6/10 (son says 9/10)