Best known for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Haddon returns with a collection of short stories. Using spare language, Haddon writes small sketches with echoes of old fairy tales and fables.
The title story is perhaps the strongest in the collection. A completely omniscient narrator floats between a buckling beam and individual seaside goers. The tension is almost unbearable as the reader begins to understand what is about to happen. The pier begins to fall apart, and an idyllic day becomes a living horror.
Twelve and a half minutes later another rivet snaps and a section of the pier drops by half an inch with a soft thump. People turn to look at one another. The same momentary reduction in weight you feel when a lift starts descending. But the pier is always moving in the wind and the tide, so everyone returns to eating their pineapple fritters and rolling coins into the fruit machines. ~Loc. 84
The story “The Island” follows a young woman, a princess, whose castle is overrun and she is kidnapped. Her captors abandon her on island and leave her for dead. Most of the story is her memory of how she came to this point in her life.
Later that night she woke repeatedly, thinking he was standing in the room or lying beside her. She was terrified at first, then disappointed. She felt alive in a way that she had never felt alive before. The cold flags on the floor, the cicadas, the pocked coin of the moon, her own skin … She had never seen these things clearly until now. ~Loc. 321
The other stand out story is “The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear.” It’s an unsettling, surreal diary entry from a group of explorers. The jungle expedition has devolved into an inhuman bout of survival.
I began our expedition thinking that Edgar’s ambition, his sangfroid, his bravery and self-belief were admirable. I see now that it is possible to demonstrate these qualities to such a degree that they become an illness, dangerous both to oneself and to those around one. ~Loc. 3221
Like in “The Island”, the bulk of the story is the narrator explaining how he came to find himself alone, in a jungle, thousands of miles from home, unsure if he will survive the night.
The style is certainly more dreamlike than his novels. He has stripped down his storytelling to a few, exacting words in this tightly packed collection of stories.
Read via NetGalley.
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (May 10, 2016)
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches