I really enjoy a good novella, one-sitting stories. One writing style that seems to particularly suit novellas is a story told in vignettes – each section a paragraph or two, at most a couple of pages. They often cut the story down to the bare bones, leaving you to read much between the lines – a couple of good examples are Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner and Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Here are two stories told mostly in vignettes – one elegiac from start to finish, the other eloquent too but in a rather different way!
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
I am thirty-two weeks pregnant when they announce it: the water is rising faster than they thought. It is creeping faster. A calculation error. A badly plotted movie, sensors out at sea.
This story is a disaster narrative; a story of people separated by the rising floods, made refugees, seeking new homes whereever they can find them. What a world to bring a new baby into, eh? At its heart, this beautiful novel is the story of a woman and her new-born child, just days old when she, her husband R and the baby boy Z are forced to leave their London home to head for higher ground. They get separated from R, but have to keep moving on, hoping that he’ll catch up. The odds are against them, but Z thrives, she remains strong for her baby. Will this little family ever become a threesome again?
What got me about this particular disaster – I hesitate to call the story a dystopia, because there isn’t really any failure of government. Sure, they may not have got the evacuation plan from London quite right, but the mother and Z will be supported all along their way. There are no armed gangs raping and pillaging, hoarding petrol, enslaving innocent folk, none of those usual dystopian tropes. Instead, there are camps, there is some form of organisation doing good. Life does become tough for everyone but life does go on as normally as possible. This world view is so different, I couldn’t help but love it.
I also liked that the mother was a ‘geriatric primagravida’ as was I when I had my daughter. These days they call first time mothers aged 35 and above ‘elderly primagravida’ – I don’t know that that’s any better! She has all the insecurities that a first-time mother suffers, it was hard for her to believe she was pregnant at first, but she has a calmness that is so soothing, so good for her baby.
Source: Own copy from the TBR
Megan Hunter, The End We Start From, (Picador, 2017) Hardback, 130 pages.
All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler
I am a fan of Lemony Snicket creator Handler, (read my reviews of Why We Broke Up and Adverbs). I picked up this new novella before Christmas without even looking at what it was about. When I read the flyleaf I began to wonder whether it had been a mistake to buy this book because the whole thing is about a teenaged boy who is obsessed with sex.
I’m seventeen now, and no real girl has really told me to ejaculate on her face. Maybe it’ll never happen, I told Alec. We’ve watched a couple blowjobs together, or not togeether but at the same time, me in my room and he in his, always slightly weird.
– Pornography lied to us.
– I’m writing my congressman.
– OK but let’s watch another one first.
This is Cole speaking. He is busy working his way through the girls at High School. One of his friends, Kirsty, whom he hasn’t been with, tells him he’s getting a ‘rep’. Not everyone is happy with being another one of his conquests, she implies that he wasn’t always a true gentleman either. Cole is hurt by this – he’s just always horny. Hitting a dry spell, he hangs with his best mate Alec, and before he knows it, the two of them are experimenting with each other. The problem is, for Alec, it’s love – for Cole, it’s just sex. Poor Alec, the moment a new girl arrives at school from Europe, he’s dumped. Cole is determined to get into Grisaille’s pants – and she lets him. But, in Grisaille, he has met his match – she reels him in and treats him very differently from anyone else he’s ever known… Will Cole finally get burned?
There is an awful lot of squirmy sex in this book – we really do get inside Cole’s brain. We start off thinking he’s an idiot and definitely a cad, but soon begin to see that underneath it all he is insecure and lonely. The braggadocio is a front for the love he craves, but because he hasn’t truly experienced it yet he doesn’t know what it is. Handler has done something rather clever, and although we don’t approve of Cole at first, we do grow to sympathise with him. Never thought I’d think that when I started reading this novella! Even stranger, Handler has dedicated it ‘to my beautiful wife’! (8/10)
Source: Own copy from the TBR
Daniel Handler, All the Dirty Parts (Bloomsbury US, 2017) Hardback, 136 pages.