The Unround Circle by Pete Bellotte
|The Unround Circle by Pete Bellotte|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: An eclectic mix of short stories with a random bunch of characters none of whom are particularly sympathetic. I found little in here to enjoy.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: June 2015|
|Publisher: Nine Elms Books|
|External links: Author's website|
As short story collections go, this is a fairly ambitious bundle, some 22 stories running to a total of nearly four hundred pages. You'll gather from the fact that I'm starting with the statistics that I didn't instantly fall in love with Bellotte's writing.
In fact, I can say that whatever his talents in other departments, short-story prose is not his new-found metier. There isn't a single one of the 22 that engaged me emotionally and not one that I would want to read again. Worse, only some of them kept me well-enough interested to be even intellectually interested in what was going to happen next.
I wouldn't normally feel the need to talk about each story in turn in a collection, because they should hang together in some way, but this is such an eclectic mix that it's hard to discern any anchoring thread.
Some of the 'tales' don't even qualify as 'stories' being more vignettes, a look at a place and a time through a character's eyes. Contrariwise The Balcony which is one of these is one of the best of the bunch.
Those that are more properly plotted, struggle to constrain their plots within the short story format and end up being explained rather than explored. Show don't tell is the standing advice to rookie writers, the more experienced author ought to already have a feel for when they're straying from that mantra. Too many of these do, lapsing towards there ends into what I think of as "…and then…and then… and then…" mode.
Obviously, it's not a blatant as that. Mostly.
So what do we have?
Twice Upon A Time gives us a man discovering an unknown twin brother and plotting to steal his life, with a mildly amusing twist.
1743 is a synopsis for a Dickensian novel which, if given the full treatment by an atmospheric writer could be worked up into something brilliant.
Grandad like The Balcony is more character study than story-telling, which works all the better for it.
I really didn't know what to make of Johnny Warmglow. It's set in a milieu that Bellotte inhabits so perhaps it's true to form, but the lying cheating lazy inept promoter/manager did not strike me as someone who'd survive five minutes in the industry, much less get away with the supposed antics of this anti-hero. Full of thinly disguised references to well-known people with such unsubtle name-twists that I can only assume that it's meant to be funny. It might just work if read as something akin to an early seventies Monkees movie.
Heaven Sent is the standard reworking of getting an extra 24 hours on earth, just as Not a Christmas Carol reworks the Dickens tale. Standard is the operative word with neither piece being either original or witty enough to survive as parody.
And so it goes on.
I have read one review that speaks of each story being told in a different voice. Unfortunately I can't agree with that. I found the voice entirely consistent, and worse, for the most part it came over as juvenile and lacking in empathy for any of the characters we were being invited to spend time with.
There was little in here that I'd actually point to and say: read this. The cameos work better than the stories. The longer stories are actually too short, they could be worked up into full length books. The one exception on both counts is the title piece. The Unround Circle I did enjoy. It's a bunch of thoroughly disreputable friends each telling their own version of events centring on how a theatre designer came to be the universally disliked but tolerated individual he is. As a depiction of how everyone lies all of the time, it probably couldn't be bettered. There is a touch of a modern-day Beckett in that one – spoiled by an ending that is as trite as I'd come to expect by then. It would have been better with the truth left obscured and hanging.
Amazon reviews give it the full five stars, so maybe I'm just not the target audience but on the whole I'm afraid I can't even come close to recommending this one.
More appealing is Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
You can read more book reviews or buy The Unround Circle by Pete Bellotte at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Unround Circle by Pete Bellotte at Amazon.com.
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