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I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train

Peter Hobbs



"
Listen: dirt is superficial. Our job involves removing the superficial. And that’s profound. Of course, as Jay Jay points out, a clean car is a singularly superficial object. So you remove the superficial and you’re left with the superficial. How profound is that?"
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Reviewed by Frances Gapper

This book is the gift to the world of a mind that’s both tough and delicate, enquiring, persistent, intelligent, alienated yet at home with itself and in many other psyches. For instance, that of the academic in Molloy Dies, whose method of writing is to make a great many notes, then reduce all his arguments, counter-arguments and hypotheses to one succinct paragraph. But whose paragraphs start surprising him. Or the storyteller of Deep Blue Sea, who only just escapes being murdered by his audience after jeering at their sentimental expectations. Or the intentional castaway of Dog Days on Monkey Beach, who goes on writing postcards, even though the mysterious Checkout Girl has informed him there’s no post any longer.  "Not just for you. I mean at all." 

The centre and heart of the collection for me is It’s All True, a “true story” of his sister’s suicidal depression which the narrator says he can’t bear to tell more than once. It’s so terrible and so tenderly, sadly and concisely told, once he gets past a young writer’s bravado (hmm, shouldn’t “A quick Bovary off the platform” really be a Karenina?), that I think it must be true, in the sense of being an account of real-life events. Whether or not, it’s very moving. It’s also about truth and the great difficulty of telling it. "Oh Jesus, leave me alone,” the narrator pleads with us. “Can’t you see I’m doing my best?"

Interestingly it’s in the middle of the book, where some authors try to hide their not-so-good stories. Afterlife, another wonderful story, seems by contrast to be totally “made up” – in the sense of the author not being present or implicated in the narrative, or at least not obviously. It’s about a divorced woman, her move with sons and cat from Chicago to Florida, and how she makes a success, on her own terms, of life, work and motherhood. "In her self-sufficiency she grew smart and sassy. She developed a cutting wit, a greater analytical perspective. Her children liked this a lot, though single men seemed to find it uncomfortable."

Of course her life doesn’t stop being complex, difficult and unpredictable, that’s part of its richness (and the story’s title is probably ironic). 

There’s a lot about illness and isolation – but also relationships with co-workers, partners, other people. As well as stories, the collection includes seven numbered dreams. At first I was included to dismiss these impatiently as cheating – a way of bulking out the book to make it look long enough. But the dreams hold their own among the other stories and form a sort of collection within a collection. 

Peter Hobbs recently appeared at the Kikinda Short festival in Serbia with Clare Wigfall and Paul Ewen (contrary to his claim on Facebook to be “reuniting with Paul and Mary, and going on tour”). His beautiful novel The Short Day Dying is really a long story, I think.

Frances Gapper’s story collection Absent Kisses was published by Diva Books in 2002. Other stories of hers are in New Writing 13 (British Council/Picador), Pretext 5 (UEA), Short Fiction (Plymouth University) and Brand (University of Greenwich).

 

PublisherFaber

Publication Date: March 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Peter Hobbs was born in 1973 and grew up in Cornwall and North Yorkshire. His first novel, The Short Day Dying, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Book Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the IMPAC award, and won a Betty Trask Award. The first story in this collection appeared in the British Council/Picador anthology New Writing 13.

Read an interview with Peter Hobbs


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