Tag Archives: Jellyfish

Jellyfish by Janice Galloway: A reissue, and some.

Cover imageGiven my not-so-new-found delight in short stories I was keen to read Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish having enjoyed both her memoirs and The Trick is to Keep Breathing. Galloway prefaces her collection with David Lodge’s assertion that literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life’s the other way round. With its themes of parenthood, relationships, death and loss as well as sexuality and desire, Jellyfish is her response. Comprising sixteen stories, it’s a reissue of a collection first published by Freight Books with the addition of two new pieces: ‘Peak’ and ‘Gold’

Galloway’s stories range in length from the two-page celebration of male beauty and desire ‘Looking at You’ to ‘Gold’ which stretches over fifty pages charting a woman’s quiet, solitary life which takes a surprising turn after sharing her admiration of a Chagall with a stranger, then another when a camping trip with a friend is interrupted. ‘That Was Then, This Is Now (1)’ in which lust is coupled with ignorance is laced with the mordant humour running through several of these pieces, at its darkest in ‘Burning Love’ which sees revenge prove lethal. In ‘Peak’ a psychiatrist finds herself faced with an unusual request on a second date and is surprised at how much she enjoys herself while ‘Greek’ sees a woman make a drastic choice when she realises she’s pregnant by her hedonistic lover. Galloway bookends her collection with two stories about parenthood beginning with the titular piece in which a mother takes her carefully raised four-year-old on a day out, knowing that he’ll soon be exposed to all manner of influences other than hers, and ending with ‘Distance’ in which a  child’s fall sparks a fear of just about everything in his mother leading to a radical solution at great emotional cost to herself.

Part of the joy of these stories is Galloway’s writing. I could stuff this review full of quotes but I’ll keep it to just a few favourites:

His skin didn’t crease, she thought. Whatever he did with his face, it unfolded again smooth as soap (Jellyfish)

Murray needed the freedom to flit in and out of lives as though they were incidental train platforms between his journey to himself (Fine Day)

The Guggenheim was made in bright white slices, an unmissable space-ship of a building parked off-road for the afternoon (Gold)

If she thought I’d forgotten about the shed, she had another think coming. I’d poke her fucking shed-sheltered library with a poker and burn it to funerary ash (Burning Love)

In her acknowledgments, Galloway graciously thanks her publishers noting that:

Publishers are shy of short stories in the here and now, shy like people are shy of three-legged puppies, which is to say they’d love to give them a home, but are nervous of their apparent handicap in that they are not novels.

What a lovely way to end this thoroughly enjoyable, thoughtful, wryly amusing yet often poignant collection.

Books to Look Out for in February 2019: Part One

Cover imageFebruary’s surely the dullest month of the year in my part of the world although, thankfully, not in the publishing schedules, as I hope you’ll agree. Lots of promising titles to look forward to beginning with Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day which is about two couples who meet in their twenties. Thirty years later Alex and Christine’s evening is interrupted by a phone call: Zach has died and Lydia is distraught. Instead of uniting them in grief, Zach’s loss opens up a well of anger and bitterness between the remaining three, apparently. Hadley’s narrative moves back and forth between past and present, always an attractive structure for me.

In Steve Sem-Sanberg’s The Tempest, the past is also revisited thanks to a bereavement. Andreas returns to the house in which he grew up on an island just off the Norwegian coast. Memories surface and secrets are uncovered as he sorts through his late foster father’s belongings. ‘Rich in shimmering echoes from Shakespeare’s play, Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Tempest is a hypnotic portrayal of the inherited guilt that seeps through generations, haunting an island overgrown with myths’ say the publishers which sounds ambitious but intriguing.

I’ve managed to get ahead of myself and have already read Frances Liardet’s We Must Be Brave which carries on the pleasing theme of flitting between past and present revealing secrets. It opens in 1940 with the discovery of a child fast asleep at the back of a coach full of Cover imagefrightened women fleeing the bombing of Southampton. Ellen, the childless wife of a first world war veteran, takes Pamela home, surprised at the love awakened by this five-year-old girl whose loss reminds her of her own past. It would have been easy to descend into schmaltziness with this kind of story but Liardet steers well clear of that while still conveying its poignancy. I’ll be posting my review next month.

As you can guess from its title, Yara Rodrigues-Fowler’s Stubborn Archivist also has one foot in the past. A young woman whose mother has left her homeland struggles to find a way to feel comfortable with herself by exploring her family history. ‘Our stubborn archivist tells her story through history, through family conversations, through the eyes of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt and slowly she begins to emerge into the world, defining her own sense of identity’ says the publisher, promisingly. I’m often drawn to the theme of immigration, inventively explored here by the sound of it.

There’s a promise of twists in Joan Silber’s Improvement which sees Kiki, settled in New York after travelling the world, worried about her niece’s relationship with her partner. When Reyna decides to put her four-year-old first, the repercussions are more profound that she might have expected.’ A novel that examines conviction, connection and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki’s beloved Turkish rugs and as colourful as the tattoos decorating Reyna’s body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising Cover imageand unexpected as the lives all around us’ say the publishers.

I’m winding up this preview with a book that was first published in 2015: Janice Galloway’s short story collection, Jellyfish, comprising sixteen stories which explore sex, parenthood, death, ambition and loss. Stuff of life, then. After reading Galloway’s memoirs and her novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, I’m eager to get my hands on this one.

That’s it for the first part of February’s preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Part two soon…