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Some New Ambush

Carys Davies

  Mary Owen found the baby in the sand on the afternoon of her forty-sixth birthday, a Tuesday."

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Some New Ambush is a promising debut collection of short fiction by Carys Davies. The title is a quote from Nursery Tales by Philip Larkin: 

“So every journey that I make 

Leads me, as in the story he was led, 

To some new ambush, to some fresh mistake...” 

All of the stories in Some New Ambush are about mistakes. In Hwang, a misplaced bangle brings the end of a friendship. After inventing a marvellous floor covering to woo a busy mother, enthusiasm undoes the narrator of Waking the Princess. In Monday Diary, it is not Flipper Harries, a resourceful teenage boy who that makes the mistake, but the doctor who prescribes his mother Thalidomide during her pregnancy. The Captain’s Daughter begins with the narrator’s father, at the onset of dementia, coming downstairs to breakfast without his false hand. Metamorphosis is the story of a librarian who loses his job after two colleagues become lovers. Historia Calamitatum Mearum shows the mistake a technology teacher makes crossing a Latin mistress. 

Concerns with childhood and anxiety about children are a recurring thread. In the excellent Pied Piper, a childless woman finds a baby in the sand, but the rest of the town soon rue letting her keep it, especially when disaster takes their own children from them. In Gingerbread Boy, a kidnapped child returns to his parents after years with his abductors; the assumption that everything will go smoothly is ill-founded. In Rose Red, on an island where everything is red, including hair, clothes, vegetation and soil, a woman dreams of something else and dreads the birth of her child. The narrator of Scouting for Boys chronicles a week at scout camp in the Lake District and Needham, who lives with his boozy granny in a dirty flat, everything about him ill fitting and uncomfortable to the narrator’s younger self. 

Davies mixes obvious historical research with engaging stories. In the super short Homecoming, 1909, the crew of a whaler, reaching port after an eighteen month trip, realise that they have made a terrible mistake when they see the women promenading before them. In The Visitors, Charles Dickens soon regrets his decision to ignore the warnings of a young nurse working in an insane asylum.

Interestingly, many of the stories in Some New Ambush have either won prizes or finished highly placed in competitions. This is the one weakness of the collection. Some stories come across as the kind of stories that win competitions, heavy with ‘writingness’ and craft that impresses panels of judges. The strongest stories - Pied PiperGingerbread BoyThe Captain’s Daughter - are those not recognised in competition and that reveal something less palatable and more idiosyncratic and interesting than the technical proficiency of their well groomed associates. 

As a book collecting previous successes together, Some New Ambush works well. If Davies’ next collection begins to explore her personal obsessions away from the strictures of writing to win competitions, I suspect it will be a winner on its own terms.

From Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Mark Brown now lives in south-east London. His work has appeared in Punk Planet, Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher, Skive and Irk amongst others. Between September 2006 and September 2007, Mark wrote only 200 word short stories. He can be contacted at markbrown1977@googlemail.com.

Mark's other Short Reviews: Brace anthology

Ali Smith "Other Stories & Other Stories"

Peter Wild (ed) "Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall"

PublisherSalt Publishing

Publication Date:September 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Longlisted for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award,  and the 2008 Wales Book of the Year; Finalist, 2008 Calvino Prize

Author bio: Carys Davies won second prize in the inaugural 2002 Orange Harpers & Queen Short Story Competition, second prize in the 2005 Asham Award, and runner-up in the 2005 Bridport Prize and the 2006 Fish Short Histories Prize. Her stories have appeared in prize anthologies and a variety of literary magazines.

Read an interview with Carys Davies

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