When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub

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When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A collection I took some time to gel with, but beyond the regular style is more than enough irregular content to make it worth considering.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: December 2015
Publisher: Quartet Books
ISBN: 9780704373976

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Put yourself, if necessary, in the mind of someone wanting to publish their first collection of short stories. What do you choose as the contents – besides just saying the best available? Do you try and find a theme, or connecting happenstance or style, to pin them together? Are they based on you now, someone else somewhen else, or all the diverse people and places you have once met? Joannah Yacoub seems to have gone for the latter.

We open with the title story, which tries to bring a kind of Graham Greene, 'look at how this distant country is sullied, grubby and corrupt – but all in good ways' feel to proceedings, before delving into some kind of fantasia. With the author's biog here we see she has lived in different countries around the world, including Germany, where a soldier absconds for the night to his family home, only for that sanctuary to be denied him, causing him to find solace in the company of a much different lonely man. But if Yacoub has lived in both locations, I doubt she'll publicly admit to having been in a family where alcoholism leads to such melodrama, or a French brothel – and nobody has been in one of those and lived to see what happens here. Again we're into the realms of the magical.

I have to admit that I'd tried all four tales – out of ten here – and found little favour with the book. But bizarrely, when things did actually cohere with the unlikely theme of abuse within families, I found pieces that really did work a lot better. One of them is even narrated from the point of view of a bee, but another certainly strikingly represents the damage done in a family due to a combination of loyalty and betrayal. A girl has a hard time with her mother's new companion, and an unusual legacy comes in the form of a bird cage beyond all equal. We again track back in time to a different location, to allegations of a supernatural (or is it?) theft in rural Turkey.

It's that strong variety and exoticism that sold me on the book in the end, however everyday I found the style to be. You don't get such variation, bending the boundaries of what we know about and what we usually read about, in many other collections. I would have preferred some hook that grabbed me with intent a bit more clearly, but ultimately it’s the lack of a hook that wins – the book instead, then, is a collection of safe flies designed by a fisherman with much that is vivid and outlandish, that will briefly land on the surface above you and could easily catch you unawares.

I must thank for the publishers for my review copy.

The American Lover by Rose Tremain is the sine qua non of 2015 short story collections – but even that took our reader a little time to love.

Buy When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub at Amazon.co.uk


Buy When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub at Amazon.com.

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