I've read so many short stories, cartoon strips and essays recently and, much as I love them, I've found my concentration span has become that of a gnat. I'll pick up something and before I've finished the first page, I'm already flicking through to see how much is left. Now, I LOVE short stories, of course I do, but it's proved to me that variety is all.
Luckily, two books, picked out of my 'to-be-read' list, got me back on the straight and narrow.
First up is one I got sent by Scott at the Friday Project. Unlike other bloggers, I don't get sent many freebies, but those I do, I treasure because they're normally from people who know my taste. And I really did enjoy Darren Craske's The Equivoque Principle. It's a completely surreal story of the circus, the Church, and, like all good quests, the search for everlasting life. I thought the ending was a bit of a gallup to the finishing post, but by then, I was so charmed by the characters, especially Madame Destine, that I was willing to be carried along. Some really juicy gruesome bits too, including a tongue-ripping out scene that made me literally put my hand over my own mouth. I do love a well-judged bit of gore. Pure escapism, perfect for February and the best thing is that it's part of a series.
By contrast, Debi Alper's Trading Tatiana sent me not so much to the hot chocolate and duvet, as to the computer to look up some statistics about European sex workers in this country. The narrator of Debi's book can't help but help, even when there's a buttock flashing fascist chained up on the roof of her block of flats. So coming to the aid of Tatiana, a refugee and escaped prostitute, is never going to be in question. What I liked most about this book is that it never felt judgmental, or as if the issues discussed - and there was more than the obvious one - were being explained to me by a schoolteacher. If I wanted to read it and enjoy it for what it was, and it really IS a good read, then fine. But Debi creates real characters, and also real situations. At the end of the book, Jo realises that everyone she's come across has benefited from dealing with the Ukrainian Tatiana's life in some way, including, and most uncomfortably, herself. I know it doesn't sound funny, but this is the other surprise. It is. I was gripped right up to the end, and it really made me think.
And next up is this:
I'm looking forward to it even more after reading this quote from Raymond Chandler:
"The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off."