'68: New Stories from Children of the Revolution
 by Nicholas Royle (Ed)

Salt Publishing 2008, Hardback

Authors: Toby Litt, Justina Robson, Marc Villemain, Tricia Sullivan, Frank I Swannack, Christopher Kenworthy, James Flint, Rhonda Carrier, Marc Werner, Kerry Watson

Editor: Nicholas Royle is author of five novels, one short story collection and has edited thirteen anthologies. He teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Each of the contributors to the anthology were born in 1968.

Read an interview with Nicholas Royle.



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"'Oh yes yes yes,' he sang softly, half to us, half to himself. 
'Yes yes yes yes yes.'
  The laughter died away. We watched him, watched ourselves watching him. This wasn’t quite what anyone had expected."


Reviewed by Melissa Lee-Houghton


'68: New Stories from Children of the Revolutions … limbers up with Toby Litt’s disarming History! which deftly takes a toy shotgun to the head of the anthologized concept of revolution and takes no prisoners. It would be difficult to go into any detail surrounding the storyline without spoiling a story which is more than capable of holding the attention of any literate person for its duration.

"They met in the thickest part of the woods: also, the furthest from the edge. To get there, they had to hack through thick brambles, use compasses, check their synchronized watches…" begins the Hansel and Gretel of dystopian shorts, and it if were a rock song it would be the one you want to hear again but won’t for fear of wearing out its jarring anthem.

After this rousing beginning we are led through the confident narrative of a futuristic student who, matrix-style, takes a pill which engages him in an "interactive" lesson involving simulated characters from 1968. The story, by Justina Robson, is witty, demanding and sardonic.

Nicholas Royle’s translation of Marc Villemain’s, This Was My Flesh is every bit as terrifying and guillotine-precise as the title might suggest. The dualism of tenderness, and passion, against abomination, annihilation and death in every way challenges notions of right and wrong, tradition and value, righteousness and the human capacity for the neglect of reasonable judgment. Humanity in this story is at war in the same way as all democratic states are at war against diminutions of ideals and values which can be opposed as abhorrent and unlawful or dehumanizing, but will still find a roothold in society where they can. In this case the fiction presents the political affront of a cannibal society which is literally torn apart by one woman’s fractured, pathological and devoutly traditional ideals.

The next story to really grab my attention was James Flint’s immeasurably engaging Carl:
Carl wasn’t like the rest of us. With his bone white skin, hollow flesh and rinsed-out eyes he looked more like the front man of a punk band than someone likely to subject you to a diatribe on the baroque.
But needless to say, Carl manages this. Carl symbolizes many things in the narrator’s world. At first he is a competitive ally at Oxbridge who can seemingly always get one over on you. He inhabits a self-made, parent-funded underworld of filth and hard-drug binges. He is the anti-Christ. He is incredible, he is popular and destructive, and popular because he violates. I love that the author chose the setting, the characters that he did, so well juxtaposed, against all the unbridled and unrestrained drug-laden underbellies of society that existed as a consequence of the revolutionary age. It is entirely the genius of the author and indivuality of the take on the concept which makes this story easily one of the two most memorable.

I have never found it as difficult to pick out particular stories in a collection which stand out because they are all, quite simply, so diversely brilliant and unique that the anthology as a whole is completely memorable and alive, teeming with excess and spanning time, nationality, political invention, death, hypocrisy and the shadow of a year as an ambassadorial emblem of an era. As far as I’m concerned as regards to the editor, he picked a perfect team.

The Sorry Years by Kerry Watson was my personal high-point, as the final story I felt its impact the most enduring and emotionally liberating. It is a story which is stripped bare of the impressive invention of the other stories and has a disambiguating quality which gives the reader room to breathe, and ingest, and think. It has been one of the rare occasions that literature has made an impact so intrinsically real and unembellished and pained that I admittedly cried tears of such overwhelming relief, mirrored by the drip-drip of realization which adorns the prose, that I was too embarrassed to tell my husband what I was crying about. I quite simply think that The Sorry Years is compelling, dignified, erudite and completely and utterly heartbreaking.
I ask my mother again about the state taking Aboriginal children away from their families. This time she says people had thought it was for the best. I query this, and she shrugs and says, "They weren’t bad people. They thought it was the right thing to do."


Read an extract from this collection at Salt Publishing


Melissa Lee-Houghton inhabits a singularity devoid of most average psychological states, yet remains perpetually highly charged with anticipation and retrospect. 
Melissa's other Short Reviews: Philip Shirley "Oh Don't You Cry For me"

Jason Brown "Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work"

Delmore Schwartz "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"   

David Gaffney "Aromabingo"

Elizabeth Baines "Balancing on the Edge of the World"

John Saul "As Rivers Flow"

Stephanie Johnson "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others"
                     
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