'68: New Stories from
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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."