Monday, January 20, 2014

Not the End of the World

‘Why aren’t you on twitter?’ someone said to me. ‘You can follow and talk to all your favourite authors.’
‘All my favourite authors are dead,’ I said.
‘Oh don’t be a miserable old %$*’ she said.

It has nothing to do with that conversation, but I’ve been trying to read more contemporary fiction lately. One notable discovery was the bestselling author Kate Atkinson. I didn’t much enjoy Costa Book Award winning Life After Life, which left me cold. I’m sure others have made the same comparison, it was a lot like the film Sliding Doors, a tiny change in a mundane daily event can change your whole life. So we’re told a story, then we go back to the same mundane event in Ursula’s life, and we start again, and so on. And on. Thing is, Sliding Doors did this in ninety minutes and you get the point.

Perhaps, for me, it was Ursula who lacked any kind of spirit or feeling. One strand in the novel had a love story (an ideal, young love), so if the novel said anything interesting to me it was: miss out on that chance, and life is without joy or spirit. But that one strand was so small, I hardly remembered it against the morass of everything else.

My problem with a lot of newer popular fiction is the super grey realism. It seems to be written in a droning uninterested voice and hardly raises its eyes above how irritating the morning traffic can be.

However, I went on to pick up Atkinson’s 2002 short story collection Not the End of the World. ‘It is mostly set in Scotland, and an experiment in magic realism.’ Very surprising and enjoyable. Atkinson playfully revisits characters, and two stories that stood out for me were Dissonance and Wedding Favours, where she achieves something I’ve always wanted to do, hold up the mundanity of modern urban life and show how uninspiring it is, in a way that’s inspiring, that gives the message to have an imagination and strive for more. There's also an endearing repetitive mention of 2002's icon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Was listening to a great song on youtube – Alabama Shakes "I Found You" – and accidentally scrolled down to the comments section where people usually argue and leave abusive threats, but I came across the following comment: the best music is now, and at the touch of the button you have the best of yesterday.

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