Thursday 6 October 2011

The Tiny Wife - Andrew Kaufman

Rebecca at The Friday Project, an imprint of Harper Collins, very kindly sent me a copy of a teeny tiny book called The Tiny Wife, by Andrew Kaufman - who is apparently famous for All My Friends are Superheroes, of which I have to confess ignorance.  It immediately ticked a lot of boxes for me.  (1) it's short, (2) it's fantastic-but-not-fantasy, and (3) it has attractive silhouettey pictures which remind me of that wonderful scene in the penultimate Harry Potter film where the story of the Deathly Hallows is told.

The novella kicks off with a bank robbery - of sorts.  As the opening lines say:

The robbery was not without consequences.  The consequences were the point of the robbery.  It was never about money.  The thief didn't even ask for any.  That it happened in a bank was incidental.  It could have just as easily happened in a train station or a high school or the Musée d'Orsay.
The thief takes, instead, takes the item of the greatest sentimental value to each person - be it a photograph, a watch, a Camus book or even a calculator.  The thief explains that these objects contain some of their possessors' souls.
"Listen, I'm in a bit of a rush, so let me conclude.  When I leave here, I will be taking 51 percent of your souls with me.  This will have strange and bizarre consequences in your lives.  But more importantly, and I mean this quite literally, learn how to grow them back, or you will die."
And he's quite right.  The strange consequences occupy most of the rest of this slim volume.  One woman's lion tattoo leaps from her ankle and chases her everywhere, a man's office fills with water, another man's mother keeps subdiving into smaller versions of herself... and Stacey, the tiny wife of the title, is gradually shrinking.  She and her husband, who occasionally takes the first-person narrative, must discover how to halt the process.

I loved the idea, as I said.  It's just the kind of off-the-wall thing I like when I'm not curled up with a cosier 1930s novel.  And I did enjoy it - Kaufman obviously has an incredible imagination, and even a touch of sentimentality which is all too often missing from surreal works (the final line of The Tiny Wife is brilliant).  His style is great - deadpan in the way I love.  The more fantastic a story is, the more matter-of-fact the writing should be.  Yet sometimes the story itself all seemed a bit too off-the-wall - as though he were putting down the next zany idea to pop into his head.  The overall concept was great, but the details didn't seem to wholly cohere - why were certain things happening in relation to certain objects being given?  What role did the thief play?  I don't need everything to be explained in a book, far from it, but I like to know that the author has everything under control - that his imagination won't escape his grasp.  Take the ur-text of all fantastic books, for example: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.   It's totally mad, nothing makes sense or seems to relate to anything else - but somehow Lewis Carroll weaves a distorted internal logic throughout, and is obviously in control.

But it's a faint criticism of a short, enjoyable (mad) read - I would love to read more of Kaufman's work, and I can only see him getting better.

Others who got Stuck into it:

"Fun, cute, quirky and well worth a read." - Boof, The Book Whisperer

"[...]what might have come across as overly whimsical instead becomes real, and carries the dramatic weight of a problem to be solved[...]" - David, Follow the Thread


  1. I'm not sure that writers are always in control - they may have the final say, but when I am writing I find that The Writing can take on a life of its own. In 'The Fantastic' I reckon this is an even greater likelihood. And once something is written down it is not always easy to cut it out - it becomes too connected to the whole.
    Hilary Mantel recently talked about the ruthless cuts she makes to her work. Having come to grief on Wolf Hall I can't decide whether she tore out vital connections or whether the whole thing was sooooo huge that it was going to fall apart anyway (sorry Mann Booker - my book group decided the 'the king is in the all-together'!!!)

  2. I'm curious! That's a great opening paragraph and I like that the final line is promising as well.

    Interesting what you said about Alice in Wonderland. I'm ok with fantasy (and fantastic) novels, but for me AiWL was a surrealist work. Carroll might have been in control, but the feeling I got was that *anything* could happen, no rules applied, and that put me off the book.

  3. "fantastic-but-not-fantasy"

    I like that description; captures the book well, I think.

  4. You got me hooked! Sounds great, I can't wait to get my hands on it - and let me say too that it sounded to me JUST like something you'd love. :)

  5. Great review Simon, its not a perfect book but as I said in my review (which is scheduled for Monday) its delightfully different.

  6. Glad you enjoyed this book too, Simon and thanks for the mention :)


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