The latest offering from Unthank Books fairly vibrates with the unexpected, the disconcerting and the downright disturbing. Crisp, sharp-edged sentences slide you into lives where the protagonists are struggling with the simple matter of existence, and only in some cases winning.
The book itself is beautiful too – elegant, intriguing and full of promise that’s more than met by the discerning selection process of editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones.
For me, there are two utterly different types of short stories that stop me in my tracks and lodge with me for days after I’ve read them – sparely written snapshots that flare up into dazzling but fleeting light, and leave you with more questions than answers, and those that coil in on themselves, layered up with all the depths and echoes of a novel. Unthology 7 brims with tales stemming from these categories, and it’s impossible to pick out favourites.Yet, inevitably, a few did stay with me more than others.
In Death and the Architect by Roisin O’Donnell, a fondly reimagined Gaudi shares a satisfying insight into the creation of his Barcelona edifice, Sagrada Familia, and its enduring state of incompleteness. In One Hour, Three Times A Week by Sonal Kohli, the personal and political come together with daunting compassion. In Spiders by David Martin, a crumbling skyscraper and the stockbrokers it contains succumb to a web of deceit in a dramatically literal way. In My Lobotomy by Barney Walsh, first-person narration takes on new meaning, social norms slip through your fingers, and you’ll likely find yourself left with a perturbing impression of flavour and texture.
Quite simply, each story is a world in itself – not necessarily one you’d want to spend much time in, but intriguing to peer into, then tear yourself away from.
There’s a huge amount of skill on show, too, notably in On The Truth and Lies of the Love Story, by Charlie Hill. Presented as two columns of dialogue (a duo-logue?), we eavesdrop on two very different phone calls about the same relationship – a satisfying mesh of conflicting views.
Vulnerability abounds, nowhere more strikingly than in Elaine Chiew’s Chinese Pygmalion, during which two cousins learn unsettling truths about the world. Throughout the stories, there are moments of searing tenderness and sentences of bleak beauty that swoop by, trailing emotions that will colour your thoughts, in some cases for days afterwards.
Above all, though, this is an Unthology crowded with characters who jostle for space on the page, some you’ll want to take home with you, and others you’ll keep at arms length, as they “smile a pretend smile, a disguise meant to be seen through.”
To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.