London 33: Boroughs Shorts
Vol 1: East
by Various Authors

Glasshouse Books

"'Look around you, Miss, at the grandeur and the decrepit, the new and the old living side by side. ‘The stoic, the falling down and the newly born.' Ethna leaned over the railings and wondered if he was talking about buildings or people.'And listen out for the stories carried on the wind by the ghosts that were here before us. Some of it’s ugly, I grant you, but some of it takes your breath away.'"

(From While the City Sleeps by Angela Clerkin)

Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius

When I first arrived in London in 1968 and my new in-laws referred to "the other side" they meant the area north of the Thames; their loyalties were fixed in the "transpontine" South, where taxi drivers reputedly refused to venture after 10pm. London 33: Boroughs Shorts divides the city along an East-West axis, and then fragments it further into administrative areas: a city of interconnecting villages.

In Volume 1:East, partisan spirit leaps at the reader across a variety of genres and styles, but despite local loyalties, common themes emerge from an ever changing-city, creating an impression of shared experience that overrides districts and divisions in what Emile West calls "this huge, devouring city".

In Kadija Sesay’s A Village by Any Other Name, a multinational group of shopkeepers resist losing the name by which their local station is known, merely for the convenience of Olympic tourists, while Ashleigh Lezard’s Leytonstone in North by North East embraces "Ghanaian chop shop owners, Nigerian taxi drivers and Pakistani Mosque goers" whose concerns are mostly untouched by the impending Games.

Diversity co-exists with a history that won’t lie down, but remains as a "terrifying" presence in Tabitha Potts' ghost story The Djinn, and as a unifying spirit in Angela Clerkin's While the City Sleeps, reminding a lonely bus-driver that she is "part of the tapestry" of the city. In The Sugar House, by Emma Darwin, a young girl laments a former home now publically owned, and echoes an earlier homage to transport as she contemplates a passing train carrying "letters from London and hops from Kent".

Recurring mention of buses, trains and tubes highlight their importance to citizens in a hurry. In Emile West's The Penge Missives, for instance, a journalist celebrates a new line that reduces his daily commute to "a brief walk to Penge West then twenty minutes to Wapping".

Social divisions go largely unremarked, but a notable exception is Charlotte Judet's excellent black comedy, Parting Gift, a narrative that links a redundant rat-catcher and a suburban dinner party, while street crime motivates Ariana Mouriari's protagonist in Real People to find a better neighbourhood .

Upward social mobility and the desirability of the leafier suburbs surface in Susannah Rickards's Ultimate Satisfaction Everyday, in which a Havering man reflects on the residents’ ‘pride born of having escaped the city’. The irritation of people behaving badly is made clear in Uchenna Izundu’s Nne, Biko when a young teacher is dismayed by neighbours who dump "splitting mattresses and old clothes". Conversely, Ricky Oh's The Hackney Factor links a young mother, an office worker and a soon-to-be father in their shared belief that "Hackney people were good people."

Romantic attachments have their distinctive flavour, too. In Bobby Nayyar ‘s lyrical Hollywood, a Japanese art student and an Asian youth fail to bridge the cultural divide while Andrea Pisac’s Croatian art student in New Cross explores "another way of catalysing the raw energy of inspiration" through sex.

Optimism is the keynote in most of the stories, as in the success story of a Dagenham-born female entrepreneur in Martin Machado’s Unfinished Business. Stella Duffy’s Notes to Support Funding Application Modestly Proposed to the Woolwich Tourist Board, on the other takes a stab at "community arts" projects whilst outlining the attractions of a borough overshadowed by its illustrious neighbour.

Londoners will empathise with characters and settings in London /33 East and its companion volume London /33 West, Other readers will fascinated by glimpses they into the lives of ordinary citizens in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Sheila Cornelius lives in London, where she reviews plays, films and books. A graduate of Goldsmiths College now retired from lecturing in English and Media, she’s also written a book on Chinese film (New Chinese Cinema, Wallflower Press, 2002).
Sheila's other Short Reviews: The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2008

Anne Enright "Taking Pictures"

Courttia Newland "Music for the Off-Key"

Loud Sparrows: Contemporary Chinese Short-shorts

Liz Niven and Brian Whittingham (eds)  "Bucket of Frogs"

ZoŽ S. Roy "Butterfly Tears"

Various Authors "Written in Blood"

Various Authors "Dancing with Mr Darcy"

"The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant"
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Authors Angela Clerkin, Emma Darwin, Stella Duffy, Uchenna Izundu, Charlotte Judet,  Ashleigh Lezard, Martin Machado, Ariana Mouriairi, Bobby Nayaar, Ricky Oh,  Andre Pisac, Tabitha Potts, Susannah Rickards, Kadija Sesay, Emile West