Music for the Off-Key: Twelve Macabre
I see White gyal fin’ a
nex’ Mandingo fe’ please ‘er’,
Karen said snidely. I shrugged.
‘Minor, ma, I wasn’t
chirpin’ her anyway. Gimme a rum an’ Coke, will
‘So, rudebwoy, you ah lick the
hard stuff now?’
Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius
collection of surreal short stories with Black people as the main
characters" is how the author describes this book. These
bleak but hopeful stories with unexpected twists typically pose an
intriguing dilemma with a sardonic outcome.
typically make the wrong decision for reasons beyond their control, and
suffer the consequences. Sometimes betrayed despite good intentions,
the characters more often meet a fate that is unusual or unexpected but
timely and deserved. Some stories offer a happy ending of sorts, as in
Freedom where a depressed no-hoper grows wings, or Smile
Mannequin, Smile about a female model-maker who finds
a life-size doll, or in His
Healing Hands, where a young man finds a
lost gift is replaced by another. However, there is always a sense that
the closure is temporary or a possible source of even greater distress.
By depicting their
difficult circumstances the author enlists our sympathy for his
protagonist, creating a suspenseful anticipation of the outcome whilst
we enjoy the unusual situations. In the first and most compelling of
the stories, Suicide
Note, we enter the mind of a remorseful paedophile who
arranges to be assassinated, changes his mind, but can’t make
contact with the potential killer. Longer than most in the collection,
the story’s strengths are the descriptions of visceral sexual
encounters and the depiction of an obsession that destroys the life and
relationships of an artist: "She was tight, wet, her pleasure dampening
her inner thighs. He rubbed harder as she became moister, deeper as her
hips writhed in pleasure, faster as she sucked hard on his tongue. He
felt orgasm flood her body and knew Suzanne was his."
In the inventive The Great White Hate
an atmosphere of happy anticipation is destroyed by casual racism and a
bizarre outcome which threatens to destroy a young man’s
hopes. Characters with humane intentions are taken advantage of, as in Gold where a woman
loses her job after befriending a beggar. Alternatively they are forced
into crime by peer pressure, as happens in All Crew, a study
of relationships within a street gang culture, with strong contemporary
The stories succeed
through the sheer energy of the writing and the authentic feel of the
locations and the characters, revealed in dialogue and action.
They offer insights into issues of London life and characters beyond
the false glamour of the London promoted in popular movies, such as
Hampstead and Notting Hill, or novels backed resulting from superficial
research giving a recognisable structure but without the authentic
atmosphere of Newland’s stories.
a degree in English Literature at Goldsmiths College, then taught in
London’s East End whilst studying for an M.Ed. (Language and
Literature in Society). After a further MA in Media Studies, she wrote
a book on Chinese film. Currently studying Chinese and Spanish, she
writes theatre and film reviews and short stories.
Publisher: Peepal Tree
Publication Date: 2006
bio: Courttia Newland was born
in 1973 in West London. Besides short stories and plays he has written
three novels: The Scholar, Society Within and Snakeskin. He co-founded
the Tell Tales collective, a short story initiative.
with Courttia Newland
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