Book review – Songs Without Music by Tim Stevenson

Songs Without Music coverAuthor Tim Stevenson is a master of the final line, turning a tale on its head with a few carefully chosen words. Throughout his collection of “flash-fictions and curiosities” (what an enticing sub-head!), in just a single page or so Tim creates worlds that feel like close parallels to our own, where our own fate, and how to avoid (or embrace) it, is shown up in eerie technicolour. Human nature is spotlit and dissected, not only in the tales themselves, but through toying unsettlingly with our preconceptions, so that we’re caught off-step without even realising we’ve been led astray, as in Feral Oxide and in An Artist’s Impression.

I’m not a great devourer of sci-fi, but literary thought-provoking futuristic tales please me as much as any well-wrought fairytale, and Stevenson is particularly adept at these. Mother’s Milk is gorgeously chilling, ending with a satisfying pinch of justice, while The Mr Jones Emulator raises questions about what it is to be a person, while remaining a soothingly jolly read.

In other tales, a casserole dish offers an unexpectedly simple way to be noticed and appreciated, a poem on a wall offers a moment’s much-needed harmony, the familiar tablecloth trick is given a fresh, audacious twist, and a sudden scuttle of legs will make your hairs stand on end.

There is a splendidly visual quality to Stevenson’s sentences, which adds a film-like lustre to the stories. In The Betting Slip, the image of a man hanging from a fence, “just another rotten post” will continue to haunt me, and in The Black, the setting and characters shimmer with possibility, while a supposedly inanimate object quietly “re-arranged itself and waited for the evening to come.”

The collection is riddled with beauties like this – snippets of scenes wound through with lives and memories and consequence. Protagonists are hopeful, misguided, occasionally downright delusional, but always recognisable, even if you’d rather not admit that to yourself.

Songs Without Music by Tim Stevenson is published by Gumbo Press, and is available to buy from Amazon.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)