Book review – Jane And The Whales by Andrea Routley

Jane and the Whales coverIt’s not often I emerge from a collection of short stories without a clear image of the person who’s written them.

This may sound strange, but inevitably, once you start reading stories en masse, you start accumulating clues about the author: their preferences, their preoccupations, even, dangerously, their personality. You’ve probably picked up the wrong clues, or misconstrued innocent fictions into facetious facts, but the fact remains – a collection gives the impression of the person behind the tales. Usually.

Not so in the case of Andrea Routley. It took me a while to identify the lack, as it were. This clue gathering is subconscious, after all. It took me a moment longer to re-identify and reclassify the ‘lack’ as a strength.Few writers are able to produce a mass of stories that each stand so independent from those preceding and following that they can form no cohesive ‘author’ impression. Like the authorial equivalent of an ecological imprint, not to leave one is an act indicative of enviable prowess.

In her absorbing debut, Andrea Routley’s characters are self-contained, sometimes disconcertingly so. They are often angry with the people they believe they have been let down by, but have more likely let down. On the whole, they aren’t people you’d want to invite over to your house, but they are people who, given a chance, might well grow on you. And yet, these similarities aside, they are unalike, both from each other and, largely, from any other invented characters I’ve read.

The stories they inhabit reveal Routley’s skill for transporting you to a moment in time and making you experience it from the gut outwards.

In The Gone Batty Interpretation a simple demonstration draws up layers of grief you’ll feel as a palpable presence. In Reflection Journal you’ll find yourself uneasily wondering about a teacher’s intentions. In The Things I Would Say a brief moment changes the lives of three children with alarming finality. In the title story, Jane And The Whales (arguably the most deliciously haunting of the lot), a terrible storm and a dilapidated bar combine to fulfil a sonorous destiny.

Personally, I was often startled by a powerful urge to swoop in, scoop someone up into my arms, and run. These are not easy Sunday afternoon reads. They’re discomforting, sometimes distressing. A bit like spending an afternoon at the kennels and being told you can’t save a single mutt’s sorry life.

By bringing together this collection, Routley has given voices to the underdogs, the unwanted, those misinterpreted and cast aside. And in reading their tales, you may find yourself seeing the world through their eyes, and in that way understanding it with a little more compassion. You may even find you identify with them in unexpected ways.

Jane and the Whales by Andrea Routley (RRP £15.99) is available to buy from Amazon, or directly from Gazell on 01524 68765, sales(at)gazelle books.com.

I welcome review submissions and suggestions – just  send an email to me at Judy(at)socketcreative.com.