For His Warriors
by Rob Mimpriss

Gwasg y Bwthyn
2010
Paperback
Second Collection







"Being with Melanie gives me hopes and ideas. I could find room in my flat for this girl; I could swap strains of the virus with her, give my T-cells something to whinge about. And it’s just then it sinks in that I’m going to outlive her, and in this moment of loneliness, the world feels transient and flimsy, a girls’ fashion that will be memory by winter, that already is a memory."


Reviewed by Brian George

By now, Rob Mimpriss is probably fed up with being characterised as "a quiet writer with a loud voice", but this description does tell us something essential about his short fiction. There is nothing ostentatious about his writing: most of his characters lead unremarkable, even humdrum, lives; there are few dramatic plot developments; the writing itself does not draw attention to itself. And yet the best of these pieces express something important about psychology and human relationships, and the sparseness of the writing is capable of considerable power.

A good example is Its Discontents. The story opens with four people drinking tea in the garden of a boarding school where one of the men teaches. The teacher's young Vietnamese wife flirts with their guest, a young man who was once a pupil of her husband. Later, as they go on a walk in the grounds of the school, Jay, the ex-pupil, makes a pass at her. She rebuffs him. Meanwhile, some local teenagers make fun of Simone, the teacher's twin sister. On his return to London Jay mentions the incident to an acquaintance, who is less than flattering about Jay's behavior and motives.

On the surface this might not seem like very promising material for a story, but Mimpriss handles it in such a way that the reader is left feeling unsettled and oddly bruised. The complex interrelationships between the four main characters emerge through quiet, but intensely vivid, scenes. The capacity of human beings to be thoughtless, even cruel, in their dealings with those closest to them is brought out very well. Wider themes, such as the phenomenon of middle-aged, middle-class Western men marrying much younger, East Asian women, are hinted at in a disquieting way, and are seen as one manifestation of predatory inequality in sexual relationships. It is the fact that so much is left unsaid that gives the piece its power. One of the most disturbing features of the story is that the characters do not undergo any epiphany. There is no moment of great psychological or emotional awakening leading to a change in outlook or behaviour. The story concludes like this:
For a time he (Jay) watched himself in public, looking for weaknesses in his display, but he could find nothing he was willing to change, and soon his mind moved on to other things.
In many of the stories, while the foreground is unremarkable, usually being set in a small town or village in Wales, big themes, such as the ravages of Aids or political upheaval in Eastern Europe, are being quietly, almost craftily, inserted into the reader's consciousness. One of the most powerful stories is The Blind Man at the Bay. A couple are finishing a meal at a restaurant in Cardiff Bay, when a man, who may be blind, sits at another table.

The first part of the story is mainly concerned with the tensions between the narrator and his girlfriend, and we become acutely aware of the superficiality of their lives and the fragility of their relationship. To humour his partner, the narrator eventually makes up an elaborate story about the "blind" man's past, his torture and interrogation by secret police in Prague in the 1960s, his later capitulation and eventual anonymous exile. Again, the effect is profoundly unsettling: it seems that real events of great importance in the world can only be perceived by bored affluent Westerners as material for pointless game-playing. And yet: the story the narrator concocts is plausible and moving in its own way, drawing us as readers into the make-believe despite ourselves. At the end of the piece we do not know quite what to believe.

Not all the stories in the collection are as successful as this. In a few the material is so slight that Mimpriss fails to engage us sufficiently in the life of the characters, while occasionally elements of back story are "told" a little too heavy-handedly. The great majority of the stories, though, work extremely well. While most have a contemporary setting, one of the best, A lifting up for those who mourn, takes place during the Second World War. A disabled farmer's wife on a Welsh island murders the land-girl who has become her husband's lover. The sudden eruption of violence into another apparently mundane setting is all the more shocking for being both unheralded and understated. The real tragedy of unfulfilled lives caused partly by prevailing social attitudes at the time is genuinely moving. The ending of this story, with the woman waiting to be ferried to the mainland to face justice – taken in a boat by her husband's brother, the one man she really loves – delivers a real kick to the guts.

One final point: the last story in the book, Castle Street, consists of a series of eight short vignettes taking place in the same street. These laconic, enigmatic pieces show a latent talent for flash fiction that it would be very interesting to see Mimpriss explore more fully.

 


Read a story from this collection on RobMimpriss.com


Brian George lives in Pontypool, south Wales. He has published two collections of short fiction with Stonebridge Publications: Walking the Labyrinth (2005) and Blindfold (2011).
Brian's other Short Reviews: Nathan Englander "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges"   

Jayne Anne Phillips "Black Tickets"

Deborah Kay Davies "Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful"

Alice Munro "Dance of The Happy Shades"
                     
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Rob Mimpriss is a short story writer and creative writing tutor. He has had two books published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon: Reasoning: Twenty Stories (2005) and For His Warriors: Thirty Stories (2010). For His Warriors was longlisted for the Frank O'Connor Award. His third collection, White City, is in progress.

Read an interview with Rob Mimpriss