Reviewed by Carol Reid
This collection, Christopher Fowler's tenth, is remarkable for its variety of settings and characters and the focused, apparently effortless beauty and power of its prose. The stories traverse continents and centuries, never failing to engage the reader's sympathy and interest in their cast of flawed characters, each struggling in his or her own dire circumstances.
The protagonists are never passive and rarely blameless. However misguided or reprehensible their motives, they have chosen and participated actively in their fates. Again and again they have the opportunity to take another route, make another decision, drawing the reader deeply into the narrative and its often chilling outcome.
Christopher Fowler's advice to developing writers: Don't be afraid to think the unthinkable.
In his foreword to this collection, Fowler speaks of being drawn to the "prevalent darkness" of human existence. His prose is a light in that tunnel - precise, even elegant, and always in service to the voice of the story.
Threads is a particularly well-crafted tale which follows
the decline of a pompous and acquisitive British couple in a mysterious
North African town.
Although Fowler is well known for his stories of contemporary urban decay, several of the stories in this collection are set in late Victorian times. I was delighted by the Holmesian tale, The Lady Downstairs, and by the rather Gothic Heredity, both of which are convincingly told from a female point of view.
Fowler returns to a ruined and arid North African landscape in Cupped Hands. Here the protagonist, Neil, a geologist, Cambridge dropout and loser in love, has a chance to redeem himself on several levels by bringing water to drought-ravaged Grand-Assour, but a partnership with a fellow British rogue very nearly seals his fate. This story is one of the more hopeful tales in this collection, and Fowler's essential optimism asserts itself in the closing moments.
The darkest and least hopeful pieces such as Take It All Out, Put It All Back, Exclusion Zone and Let's Have Some Fun seem to be set in somewhere akin to contemporary urban England. Here, families, friendships and work are hollow, treacherous places, bleak stopgaps between empty life and easeful death.
The Twilight Express takes the reader on a journey into a gentler, more magical darkness of the soul. A ghostly carnival ride seems to be the ticket to a freer future for young Billy Fleet. This is a lyrical side trip into Bradbury country and one of my favorites in this collection. All Packed is a deeply moving tale set in the early days of the AIDS plague. Beautiful and haunting with a gorgeous closing sentence I lingered over, savoring the sensation of release and completion.
But wait, there's more! A short but enlightening interview with Christopher Fowler reveals that he is a serious and keenly aware writer with a clear sense of tradition and legacy in dark fiction. I look forward to reading much more of his work.
Read one of the stories from this collection, The Lady Downstairs, on BBC.co.uk.
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Publication Date: 2007
First collection?: No
Awards: Winner,British Fantasy Society Best Collection Award 2008, the 2008 Edge Hill Readers' Prize, shortlisted, 2007 Bram Stoker Awards
Author bio: Christopher Fowler is a novelist and scriptwriter best known for his dark urban fiction. He has written over 100 short stories in nine previous volumes, as well as fourteen novels. He is currently writing the Bryant & May series, six volumes of dark crime featuring two elderly detectives. Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler’s tenth collection of short stories.
Read an interview with Christopher Fowler
Buy this book (used or new) from:
Author's recommendations: The Big Green Bookshop (UK) & Goldsboro Books
And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US
If you liked this book you might also like....
John Sladek "Maps"
Iain Banks "The State of the Art"
Anything else by Christopher Fowler
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