Beddow Library Evening Reading Group, Portsmouth
The Flyover by Rana Dasgupta
"A very visual tale conjuring colours, smells and the cramped interior of the apartment in which Marlboro lives. We sense the underlying threat and danger of his environment. The story raises unanswered questions especially regarding the past; where we come from, who we want to be. The flyover stands as a symbol of an escape route not taken, instead it becomes a place to hide, to disappear. The claustrophobic sense of the earlier scenes become literal at the end as Marlboro is hemmed in.
The reader can enjoy unravelling the puzzle, meaning and message of the story."
"Lagos; young Marlboro starts his working life as an informant for the local mafia. One eventful night, caught in the crossfire of fantasy and reality, he discovers his mother's mysterious life, throwing him into ultimate turmoil."
"This was the least preferred of the five short listed stories. Just couldn't relate, didn't understand the mother's motivation or Marlboro's relationship with the girl. But didn't really care about these questions, it was a forgettable tale."
The Safehouse by Michel Faber
"I liked the style of the author's writing and found the subject intriguing. On second reading I actually enjoyed it more. I could imagine the author wondering about what happens to all these people who just disappear every year. It had the feel of a Kafka short story."
"I loved this story. I found it creepy, reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, very distopian. When I had finished it I felt that I had been completely drawn in to this alien world but was no nearer understanding it."
"This short story was mildly disturbing as the author keeps you guessing where the main character ended up - the reader thinks of different possibilities but does not draw a conclusion."
"A first person narrative, sinister and emotive. The sense of anxiety is excellent before we turn to the safehouse; a prison? institution? or some kind of heaven/afterlife? The communal peace and sense of belonging could be reassuring or even more sinister, however we choose to read it. The reader wants to know more, what brought him to this point, we are given no personal histories. The T-shirts can be read as institutional control or as living epitaphs.
Excellent story, great phrasing and very immediate."
An Anxious Man by James Lasdun
"On first reading of this collection of stories James Lasdun's was the one I enjoyed most because I could relate to it. Anyone who has ever experienced bouts of anxiety would be able to recognise the feelings of the main character, his way of trying to rationalise them, making deals with himself and the way he seeks reassurance from others believing they may know better. Then when he relaxes something really terrifying appears to happen. A true snapshot of the human condition."
"This story centres around Joseph Nagel and his insecurities, the author cleverly takes you along on Joseph's tale of being easily led, weak willed and anxious. You find yourself being sympathetic towards him at times and then despising him at others."
"I thought this was the best as it was so memorable. All the incidents are trivial but intensified by the perception of Joseph Nagel (in spite of the third person narrator). Narration is sharp, crisp and critical of American rivalry and individualism."
"A story of the progression of emotions; the questioning of one's own situation, of survival, of loss of control. Shows the precarious nature of judgements, of keeping a cool perspective. This man is heading for an ulcer!"
The Ebony Hand by Rose Tremain
"A moving story involving a large slice of life in a few pages. Interesting use of 'Bin' as refuge from life and the 'ebony' hand as stoical endurance. Change seen as uncontrollable - plans and hopes are thwarted by others, merely carrying on is heroic."
"More of a complete story, a mini novel. The ebony hand is an object signifying beauty and stability during changing times and experiences. Described from a single perspective of village life in the fifties, an era of post-war unsettled futures and adjustments and with the advent of the teenager producing a striking difference between generations. Used a particularly beautiful phrase "Sorrow makes you weary, but never gives you rest."
"Is the central character a martyr or naive? She certainly needed a hand!!"
"Had higher expectations from this story as I enjoy the writer's novels. But it wasn't memorable and I didn't click with the characters."
Men of Ireland by William Trevor
"I felt that this was very typical of William Trevor's style making you feel that you know these places and people, even if like myself you have never visited Ireland. In this story Ireland is two different places, for those who stay and for those that leave."
"Very concise and telling - the sponger and the sponged-on. An ironic title. Depressing, as with so many of his, but with humour too."
"Captured the dialogue and the rural setting brilliantly. A dark tale with no uplifting or redemptive feeling. A country and religion's reputation leading to extortion, not a personal guilt but a collective one. Setting up stereotypes or engaging with interesting characters?"