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Broken Doll
Neil Campbell

Paul got a beer from the fridge and stood out on the balcony. A breeze rippled his shorts and the sun emerged from the around the corner of the block, warming his bare white chest.
"You’re up fuckin’ early aren’t you," said Sarah.
"Is that the last fuckin’ beer?"
"Give us some then."
Paul looked away from Sarah’s puffy red face and around at the view: the different coloured cranes, the traffic on the overpass, the procession of students, the shining glass of the Beetham Towers rising into a blue sky.

Reviewed by Zoe  King

Devotees of small press magazines may well be familiar with Neil Campbell’s work, though Broken Doll, part of Salt Publishing’s very welcome move into short story, is his first published book. The blurb suggests he writes "with the economy of Carver…". I don’t quite see that. There is certainly economy in his work, but it seems to me that he takes the decision to offer the reader less in the way of implied character complexity than Carver does in that he takes a deliberate position on the sidelines, to reflect the ennui displayed by his characters in their apparent lack of engagement with the stuff life throws at them. 

The characters generally are presented as peripheral, there’s little attempt at real characterisation, and yet, in many ways, there hangs the strength. As readers, we come to see their lives being mapped out for them by forces over which they have, and assume, only minimal control. But every now and then will come a line, an action, which tells us we’re wrong to make such assumptions. 

In The Orange Football, Phil and Richard, revisit the fields where they had found their friend dead just a few months before. 

They ran over to move what from a distance they thought was a pile of rubbish from the artificial cricket pitch, but what they saw wasn’t rubbish; it was Dave, curled in a ball, the bag of glue beside him flickering like a flower in the breeze… In assembly the following day, they sung a hymn as normal… During the minute’s silence, someone farted, and a few of the boys laughed.

While Richard sits on the football, "making it go egg-shaped", Phil takes a marker pen out of his pocket and writes ‘DAVE WOZ ERE’ across the length of the artificial cricket pitch, in letters so big they could be "read from the sky". 

The Disappearance of a Sunset is funny and irreverent, but has an underlying poignancy which is beautifully caught. Magaluf offers the wonderful: "Fuckin’ pride and fuckin’ prejudice. You tart. Do you sit down to piss these days or what?",  lines which more or less encompass the position of many of the book’s characters. 

The collection works in a strange, cumulative fashion to draw the reader into Neil Campbell’s chosen world. This is an excellent first collection.

(This review was first published in Cadenza magazine.)

Zoe King is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Norfolk. Editor of Cadenza, a member of The Society of Authors and vice chair of the The Society of Women Writers and Journalists, her first love is the short story.

Zoe's other Short Reviews: Jay Merill "Astral Bodies"


PublisherSalt Publishing

Publication Date:  March 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Neil Campbell was born in Audenshaw, Manchester, in 1973. While working variously as a warehouseman, bookseller and teacher, he had poems and stories published in small press magazines, and was the editor of Lamport Court. In 1999, he completed an MA dissertation on the short stories of Raymond Carver and in 2006, graduated with a distinction from the Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Read an interview with Neil Campbell

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Salt

Author's recommended bookseller: Blackwell's





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