by Brian George

Stonebridge Publications
  Second Collection

"We played this game when we kids. Being the older brother, I’d always end up leading Jack. I’d take him down to the old mine workings, or up the mountain to where Nant y Bychan rushed by like an angry whisper. Then I’d untie the bandanna, he’d open his eyes and gaze at the rusting machinery, or the silver water, as if he was looking at the world for the first time. "

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

This isn't Brian George's first collection, and I hope it won't be his last. It's a rare treat to read such gentle, precise portraits of places, people and relationships. Several of the stories take place in Wales, but it's a Wales which could be anywhere, or nowhere; a slightly surreal, timeless place that's the perfect backdrop for the stories themselves. A sense of yearning underscores many of the stories, more than one of which opens or closes with a character moving on, or away.

There's a strong sense too, of what's unseen or half-glimpsed, reinforcing the power of the title, Blindfold, which is also the title of my favourite story in the collection. This story is about two brothers, one of whom is struggling to live in the real world. The other brother is the narrator, cast in the role of care-giving. Blindfold is beautifully and sparsely told, with genuine compassion. It's unsentimental and it packs one hell of a punch; this story will stay you.

One of the best things about this collection is the sense that the stories are connected, without any heavy-handed signposting by the author (or editor). Instead, the reader is allowed to discover or ‘feel' the connections, some of which may be very personal, or subjective. My Head was Filled with Singing, and Meanest Axe in the County share a road-trip quality. So, in a less obvious sense, do Belaucèl and Mute. The motif of a guitar conjures images of escape, or perhaps of journey without end, a wandering minstrel? But that suggests a degree of whimsy which isn't present in these stories; you believe entirely into the cast of characters that George presents. As if you've read about them before, or passed them in the street.

Then there are stories about the ways in which bureaucracy reduces us, maybe even blinds us. Madame Ofsted and the Fluttering Hands is one of these, and Bytes and Flowers is another. The Chief Speak Softly is my favourite, taking the red-tape theme into new territory.

The stories about families missing one another are some of the best, I think. Fathers who can't quite work out when they lost sight of their children, or those left wondering about the broken connections. Taking Care is an unnerving example. Mexican Moustache is both funny and touching, and very sad. My Son Skates By is the best example, a mini masterpiece of loss.

I highly and wholeheartedly recommend this collection.

Read a story from this collection in Prick of the Spindle

Sarah Hilary won the Sense Creative Award in 2010 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize in 2008. Her fiction appears in The Fish Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. In 2011, she received an Honourable Mention in the Tom-Gallon Trust Award. In 2012, she launched Flashbang, a crime writing contest in association with CrimeFest. Sarah is currently committing a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Sophie Hannah "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"

Chavisa Woods "Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind"

Jennifer Pelland "Unwelcome Bodies"

Laura Solomon "Alternative Medicine"

Patricia Highsmith "Nothing that Meets the Eye"
Grace Paley "Collected Stories"

Peter Gordon "Man Receives a Letter"

Patrick Gale "Gentleman's Relish"

Warren Bull "Murder Manhattan Style"

Edith Pearlman "Binocular Vision"

The Mammoth Book of British Crime

Kate Pullinger (ed) "Something Was There: Asham-Award-Winning Ghost Stories"

David L Ulin (ed) "Cape Cod Noir"
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Brian George was born in South Wales. He studied French and English at University, and has a Ph.D in contemporary French literature. He has written articles on French theatre and pop music. His first collection of short fiction, Walking the Labyrinth, was published by Stonebridge Publications in 2005His poetry and short fiction have appeared in literary journals, and he was a prizewinner in the 2001 Rhys Davies Competition.