Variations

Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Jolts

Jolts is a short story collection from the Argentine writer Fernando Sdrigotti. It’s a punchy collection that looks at being an émigré from somewhere and an immigrant to somewhere. Across the nine stories there is anger, frustration, a sense of being lost in spaces in between, broken up by leaving bits of yourself in the places you inhabit and move on from.

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Ways of Living

Gemma Seltzer’s collection of short stories centred on the lives of female Londoners is in some respects more Ways of Leaving than Ways of Living. Its principal characters are seeking escape. In their escape, they’re also looking for understanding, whether that’s understanding themselves or being understood by others. The nature of friendship is placed under a microscope and found to be largely a matter of convenience.

The women could be anywhere. That they are in London adds a different flavour – the proliferation of people performing an artistic life and vying for attention, the particularities of multicultural working class life in the unmonied areas – but the lives portrayed here could be lived in any city. Even a global city is parochial, when you dig down into it. Perhaps the London-ness of these stories is that the strangeness of the characters’ behaviour is normalised.

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Mothlight

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Read 13/05/2022-18/05/2022

Rating 5 stars

Mothlight is Adam Scovell‘s first novel and it’s pleasingly weird. It concerns the memories held by a young man of a woman he met in childhood. Later, their lives become further entwined through a shared profession and the young man becoming the woman’s carer. Walking in the landscape of North Wales is an important part of the lives of both protagonists, forming a self-referential connection between them.

The woman, Phyllis Ewans, is a lepidopterist, overlooked by her male dominated profession because she is a woman. The young man, Thomas, also researches moths. He comes to believe that Phyllis has possessed him and is haunted by her both before and after her death. Continue reading

Cockfight

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Read 25/05/2021-31/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Cockfight is the debut collection of short stories by Ecuadorian writer María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle, that explores the violence and exploitation that comes with being a woman in Ecuador.

The writing is lyrical and Riddle’s translation chooses words and phrases with care, capturing the visceral nature of Ampuero’s original narrratives. Continue reading

famished

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Read 16/12/2020-23/12/2020

Rating 4 stars

famished is a collection of ultra short stories by Anna Vaught. The minimalist, modernist cover contains 17 baroque horror stories, all centred on food or eating, and influenced by writers from Angela Carter, Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe to F Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers.

These tales are strongly feminist, peopled by women who are taking control. The subtext is often ‘eat, or be eaten’. Continue reading

Between Beirut and the Moon

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Read 07/12/2020-16/12/2020

Rating 5 stars

Between Beirut and the Moon is Naji Bakhti’s debut novel. Set in Beirut roughly a decade after the civil war, it follows Adam Najjar and his dream of becoming the first Arab astronaut and the first Arab to walk on the moon. Bakhti is a wry observer of the universal oddness of family and the extra complexity that comes with a Lebanese adolescence. Continue reading

Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic Coast

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Read 23/11/2020-06/12/2020

Rating 5 stars

Ghosts on the Shore is a travel book partly inspired by family history. Paul Scraton is a British writer who has lived in Berlin since the early 2000s. His wife grew up in the GDR and spent her early years on the Baltic Coast. Scraton became fascinated by this part of Germany, in part thanks to his wife Katrin’s family photographs and her childhood memories, but also because of the Baltic Coast’s place in the wider history and mythology of Germany. And so he decided to take a trip. Continue reading

Imaginary Cities

Read 01/09/2020-27/09/2020

Rating 3 stars

Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities is a weighty tome that tries to pull together all manner of writing, thinking, visual representation and design theory on space and specifically on cities. It’s inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a book I haven’t read. It’s also that very rare thing – a book I don’t really know how to review. Even taking into account that I don’t really write standard reviews.

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