Sunday, 19 August 2007
Thanks Lynne for bringing The Loudest Sound And Nothing to my attention, and thanks Faber (or should that be Faber and Faber?) for sending me a copy to review, on my request.
You may well know about my recent penchant for short stories - and I couldn't resist reading a collection with such a great cover. Very simple-but-effective, which is the perfect recipe for a short story.
Very difficult to know what to say about Clare Wigfall's collection of stories. What The Loudest Sound And Nothing has made me realise is that, though many collections of short stories contain a lot of variety, they always have some identifiable style or wording or topic which is unmistakably consistent. Not so Ms. Wigfall. She covers so many periods, personas, styles, situations, nationalities and (though I haven't counted) no great imbalane in gender of narrator too. If they do share a common trait, it is the focus upon the unspoken. That's rather a truism of all literature post-1950, but rarely have I read it done without being irritating or merely included for effect. Wigfall's stories allow glimpses into lives, and wherever the image hinges on an untold aspect of these lives, it is the surrounding existence which grabs out attention. Sure, we don't know, say, what it is the barman tells the girl in 'Free'; we don't know what Mr. Turbridge's crime is in 'Night after Night' (though one can perhaps guess); we don't know what's going on in 'Safe', the most enigmatic story of them all. But in each of these cases, and throughout the collection, the portraits are complete enough to leave you satisfied. Not every story has an omission to illuminate the rest - in 'On Pale Green Walls', for example, understanding what's happening, when the narrator doesn't, is the crux.
Whichever way the story is structured, they all involve the reader in a way which I hope Wigfall can bottle and sell to potential writers. Because they're such a varied bunch, each must stand on its own merits - and I found that all but one of them did. Within sentences, Wigfall creates a miniature landscape of narrative, and even stories which last a few pages feel like complete entities. This is how the modern short story should be written.