by Niki Aguirre
Words from a Glass Bubble,
the debut from Vanessa Gebbie, is a collection of 19 stories, many of
them award- winning. The author's prose is lyrical, poetic and appeals
to the senses. Colours, sounds and descriptions are told in shades of
light and dark. Sometimes bold, sometimes ethereal, the characters --
an Innuit family, a Serbian irrigation specialist, an Irish postal
carrier, a young man who cleans shoes for a living, a kind-hearted
priest who is not a priest -- all share a commonality of loss,
dejection and hopelessness. What is comforting however is that in these
tales the grave predicaments go hand in hand with introspection, love
and the search for answers.
In Cactus Man, the
anti-hero Spike visits a social worker to find out his real name.
looks at the chlorophytum like it's just spoken or something. To me it
looks like it's soaked up all the grief that's ever been in this room."
A wonderfully evocative story, Gebbie allows us to see fleeting moments
of heartbreaking tenderness as Spike imagines what his birth mother
must have been like. The author tempers these vulnerable moments with
harsher, more realistic descriptions that make the characters
believable, yet still worthy of our compassion. Witness to these human
interactions in Cactus
Man is the withering spider plant, a symbol of
tiredness, resignation and also touchingly of hope.
In Words from a Glass Bubble,
Eva Duffy speaks to the Virgin Mary or the
'VM' as she calls her. The story is humorous and slightly surreal,
particularly when Eva breaks the Virgin Mary from her glass bubble and
puts her in her pocket to go about her work,
"…the VM's face peered
like a small boy's pet mouse in a blue hood."
Beneath the layers of
humour lie issues of unresolved grief and religious faith.
In Fuck Magnolia,
house painter Mike addresses his departed wife Emmie.
Gebbie 'paints' the story of love and tenderness between two people who
see the world through the same shapes and colours. The story is
depicted in economical language, graffiti used as a clever way to
recall the couple's moments of intimacy and togetherness but also to
represent their connection through words.All the way through, colours
weave in and out, contrasting emotion and passion against the mundane:
"I go, see colours to take it back to its
roots, dark sensuous stuff,
shining mahogany banisters, deep cream paintwork. Gaslight colours,"
says Mike, despairing that everyone just wants Magnolia. As the tale
progresses, the couple's fate plays out in a crescendo of despair that
the author captures perfectly through a combination of bells, clanging,
Mike Oldfield and red painted letters. What is left for the reader
after the last word is read, is the sensation of haunting
language in Words from
a Glass Bubble is striking and
Gebbie's writing unapologetically poetic, the most successful and
convincing narratives in the collection are those in which the prose
doesn't take center stage, allowing Gebbie's characters to tell their
stories in their own words. Then, the despair on the pages is so
realistic it is almost palpable.
Aguirre is an
American writer based in London. Her collection of short fiction, 29 Ways
to Drown, was
published in 2007 by Flipped Eye Publishing. Her stories have been
featured in Tell Tales, Mechanics' Institute Review, X-24 and LITRO
Magazine. She is currently working on a novel.
Publisher: Salt Modern Fiction
Awards: Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2008
short fiction has won many awards including the Fish and Bridport
prizes and has been published in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada and
India, translated into Vietnamese and Italian and broadcast by the BBC.
Her novel in progress won a first prize in the 2007 Daily Telegraph
an interview with Vanessa Gebbie
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