The Unusual Death of Julie
Christie and other stories
by Andrew Michael Hurley
Lime Tree Press
Andrew Michael Hurley was born in 1975 and brought
up in the North West of England. After living in Manchester and London,
he returned to Lancashire, where he makes a living teaching English and
writing. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan
University (MMU). His stories have been published in magazines such as
Libbon, Muse and Positive Space. He is also a regular contributor to
Transmission. He has completed two short story collections; Cages and
other stories (Lime Tree Press, 2006) and The Unusual Death of Julie
Christie and other stories (Lime Tree Press, 2008).
with Andrew Michael Hurley
"Lek placed the bag over
his head and pulled the ends together tight around his neck, securing
it with his mother's rosary, feeling the larger beads - blessed olive
stones from gethsemane - digging into his skin."
Reviewed by Diane Becker
There is a current misconception that the short story is
an ideal form for the "time poor" reader. It isn’t. Really it
isn’t. The brevity of a short story often belies its magnificence and
Andrew M Hurley’s second collection The Unusual Death of Julie
Christie and Other stories is magnificent and offers
staggering opportunities for musing and making sense of the worlds
But it’s not the characters in Hurley’s stories nor what they do (they
could be any of us, anywhere) that I found quite so fascinating as the
sinuous, poetic and artful way that the stories emerge from everyday
moments like clouds billowing from the nothingness of a clear blue sky.
One of my favourite stories is Dinosaurs.
Picture a father (the narrator) and his son reading a book about …
dinosaurs. We learn that the child’s mother is absent, leaving "a hole,
a crater, that Ed and me stood looking into from opposite sides for a
while, dazed and distant as though a bomb had gone off". His new
girlfriend Elspeth comes in to the room and starts mending the hem of
her best dress.
This is all that happens in the story, on the surface a tranquil scene
but the narrator’s thoughts scatter across the page like a dot to dot
puzzle and Hurley leaves it to the reader to make the connections, to
join up the dots and construct a realistic picture of their
relationship – complicated by undercurrents and things glossed over. Of
Elspeth (whose deaf ex-boyfriend harasses her by text) the narrator
notes that "Things have a habit of flying from her hands when she’s annoyed.
There’s a patch on the wall that has a slightly different shade of
white where I painted over a streak of rubber left by one of her shoes."
Dinosaurs are so much easier to figure out than people.
"How do they know what colour their skin was?" Elspeth says and closes
Spark Guns two brothers revisiting a childhood haunt find
themselves exploring not just past events but their former selves. As
in the majority of stories in this collection, the setting is as vivid
as the characters and its atmosphere saturates the story evoking links
between past and present which trigger the brothers’ memories and
"They match their skin with their temperament," I say. "It makes it
easier. Green for nice herbivores, black for the ones with sharp teeth."
"The smell of pine sap drifted up from the heap of sawn timber by the
wall. Memory makes it molasses thick. And there is vegetation burning
somewhere, perhaps a grass heap smoulders by the cabbage patch.
Secateurs and a leather glove tossed into a trug of rose stalks. There
are windfalls left to rot. Dead bees. And blackbirds fretting over a
cat winding through the undergrowth."
There are some dark-edged stories in here too. In Bricks, the image
of Lek - a young Polish boy full of repressed anger - using his
mother’s rosary beads to secure a plastic bag round his head - is
shocking. The story is narrated in the first person, but the author’s
decision to use this POV gives the reader insight into why Lek behaves
as he does. The underlying theme of darkness also runs through Milk. It’s what
prison has left in Roddy:
"Roddy collected the bundles of wood and put them on his shoulder. I
did the same with mine and we went back down the track. Roddy walked on
ahead. His shadow bled into all the others. It was dark now. Everything
around us suffered from it."
The title story from the collection,
The Unusual Death of Julie Christie is set in the heat of
a Rhodes summer where;
"Saturation point is reached about five o’clock. The island can’t
absorb anything more and the heat oozes back out, spreading like lava
across the tacky roads and the grey scrubland, collecting in the
branches of solitary olive trees and the meat of the goats that pant in
There is something of a heat haze in the way the story wavers,
exploring parallel worlds - where anything, and something strange (no,
I’m not going to spoil it) does happen.
I love this sort of writing. Hurley interweaves snippets of
conversation with cultural references, the everyday, strands of memory
that link past and present - in stories that cross timezones,
geographical and social boundaries, and one that strays into a surreal
parallel universe. As Babyhead says in Mad Max’s Beyond Thunderdome
(which I was watching one night when I was supposed to be reviewing
this collection), "Our lives hang by a thread, the flick of a dice, the
turn of the wheel …! and more than anything that’s what this collection
is about - what it is to be human - and the ways in which we connect
and fail to connect with each other.