This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
|This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Combine these fragments and episodes together with your own work and you find a quite remarkable fiction - a mysterious mood piece, in pieces.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: February 2012|
The clue is in the Christopher Brookmyre-styled title. If the events, characters and circumstances in these stories are known to you, then you have my sympathies. A man causes an embarrassment trying to watch his daughter's first school nativity play. Another has a phobia of eggs containing an avian foetus when he puts knife and fork to them. There's a car crash here - and there, a drowning, some arson, some theft... and a lot of clues that point to some national disaster. Take all those clues as one and you eventually see this is more than just a collection of disparate short stories, but a very fractured, obfuscated novel.
A lot here is removed from our view. Mostly we are in the Cambridgeshire fens and north of that to Lincolnshire, so perhaps we should be used to things being over the horizon, things bizarrely featureless or buried either in the dark, damp, low-lying soil or behind the weather.
Having said that, everything is brightened and made vivid by McGregor constantly changing his format. A short tale of workers awaiting their lift home is a film pitch. A longer tale of a man in an accident is mirrored and countered by his partner's notes for her poetry. One piece is a government report with footnotes, another is purely footnote. One is a confession at a public enquiry, but we never know to what the speaker confesses.
Take away an interlude or two abroad (however lovely the visit to Japan is), there is also a hard-to-define all-encompassing mood. It's an edginess, a slight darkness caused by the stories being obscured, unfinished, and above all a subtle dreariness. A girl working in a cafe has a boring, gossipy customer - and nags to us about it in a boring way of her own. A vicar and his wife have a nervy time with a visitor - before they return in a second story later on.
Several people may be here more than once, although I don't think so. But there is some kind of greater narrative at work - airbases are never too far away, and they must be linked somehow to a great deluge. The before, during and after of that are visited all at random, and the links from tale to tale are there to be discovered. Or not.
So while my press sheet raised eyebrows by calling this both a novel and stories, it ends up correct. Not only are there bizarre pieces of writing, the whole piece, which can be read as a novel, has its own obscure, original format. It suited me more to see it like that too, for some of the short works are too fragmentary.
A lot of wholesome bounty comes from the fenland soil - and from the unusual ground of this book comes a rich, dark and memorable mystery. It's not perfect as a collection or a novel but sitting intriguingly somewhere in between, your crop is a strange fruit indeed.
This part of the country can raise unusual fictions - see Fen Runners by John Gordon too, even if it is dressed as a young reader fantasy. For more short stories with a connection, in a different wide open space, we enjoyed The Man in the Shed by Lloyd Jones.
You can read more book reviews or buy This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor at Amazon.com.
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