Jon McGregor

All posts tagged Jon McGregor

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Vessel by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published August 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Vessel all about?:

Vessel is the story of a widow who receives an unexpected visitor one day in the shape of an old friend who brings her flowers.

What did I think?:

I really, really love Jon McGregor’s writing. Seriously, if I could bottle his talent and then release it into the world, this is the sort of style that I absolutely adore reading and with every story in this collection, I’m always anticipating something quite special. Vessel was another one of these, although I have to admit I had to read this two times to really appreciate what he was trying to say (which wasn’t a problem as it was not only delicious to read but also incredibly short at less than ten pages). Once I had reached the end a second time however and enjoyed that last gorgeous line, something clicked into place and although there was still so much that was unsaid in the narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

Vessel follows our main female character Mary who has just been treated to an unnamed male guest turning up at her door bearing tulips that it is obvious she has not seen for a while. She is a widow and her husband James is obviously still very present in her thoughts, especially when she begins comparing the two men, for reasons we do not know. It’s clear that she does have some feelings towards her mysterious visitor but is harbouring intense guilt for these feelings and constantly keeps having to remind herself about James. The visitor in turn seems to have strong feelings for Mary and is attempting to bridge the gap between them by suggesting that they could get closer. The end result is that Mary ends up seeing him a lot differently because of his behaviour and actions towards her.

Is this a good thing or bad thing for Mary? We’ll never know (although I have a sneaking suspicion!) as Jon McGregor ends the story with a lot of things “up in the air.” It is left to the reader to interpret things that possibly went on in Mary’s past and what could potentially happen in the future. Sometimes I feel frustrated when stories end like this but funnily enough, I’ve never had that reaction with this author. I don’t know why but his style of writing and wrapping up a story is always more tantalising and intriguing than irritating – perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love him so much. There’s a bucket-load of things that are hinted at in this story or just purely passed over. For example, our visitor has found it quite hard to get flowers, Mary hasn’t seen any for a while and in return, our visitor is quite surprised that Mary has milk, two things that appear to be a rare commodity. We are never told why this is and I so wanted to know! Is there war? Has there been an apocalypse? I’ll never find out and part of me feels a bit sad about that but mostly I just really enjoy letting my imagination run riot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Four

Published August 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from: https://thereadersroom.org/2015/08/07/book-worms-life-in-books-short-stories/

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth part of my Short Stories Challenge 2017. I’ve had quick a rocky road in Part Three – there were quite a few short stories that I was disappointed in, namely Possum by Matthew Holness and An Anxious Man by James Lasdun. However I did read Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King which was fantastic (the King hardly ever disappoints!). Onwards and upwards and hoping for better things in Part Four.

Vessel by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

A Place For Violence by Kevin Wignall from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published April 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Fleeing Complexity all about?:

Fleeing Complexity is the shortest story in this collection comprising of one sentence only:

“The fire spread quicker than the little bastard was expecting.”

What did I think?:

I made a promise to myself when I started my Short Stories Challenge all that time ago that I would faithfully review every single story in a collection that I read, no matter what I though of them, even if I find them tough to finish (which has been the case for one in particular that springs to mind!). Then I came across Jon McGregor, who I have been a quiet fan of ever since reading his novel Even The Dogs. The stories in this collection so far have been nothing short of remarkable and vary in length considerably. There are ones that are a page long, others that are more regular length you expect from short stories and then there’s this one. One short little sentence.

When I first glanced through this collection, this one caught my eye, obviously because of its brevity and I have to admit, my heart sank. Not because I was disappointed, no, not at all! It was because I thought, quite frankly: “How the hell am I going to review THAT?” Now it’s come to the time when I have to review it, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the process. Jon McGregor has chosen every word he uses extremely carefully. I found this to be the case in all of his other stories but it is especially apparent with Fleeing Complexity.

Read it then read it again. There’s so many questions that could spring to mind and opportunities for the reader to use their own imagination in deciding what is going on. First of all, where has the fire been set? Is it a house? Is it woods? You see what I mean? It could be anywhere! Then, what are the repercussions of this fire going to be? There could be lives lost, property destroyed, consequences or indeed no consequences for the perpetrator, that is, if he/she is ever caught. Then I got to thinking why did this person start the fire? What were the reasons behind it? It could have been revenge, boredom, a teenage prank (assuming it is a teenager?!), a curiosity about fire gone wrong… there are so many options to explore. Next, the unknown narrator refers to our perp as “the little bastard.” Who is the narrator? What is their relationship with the fire-starter? Why do they refer to him/her in those derogatory terms? Finally, I really get the feeling that the spread of the fire was accidental – perhaps not the original starting of the fire but how fast it spread after being lit. Why else would our narrator say that it spread quicker than they were expecting?

So apologies if this post has brought up more questions and speculation than answers and feelings about the short story but it’s just one of those sentences that I think has deliberately been crafted to make you think and wonder about things in that way. Jon McGregor is a fantastic author and can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I love his inventiveness and the beautiful way he has with words and connecting with the reader. I’d love to know if you have any further thoughts about Fleeing Complexity. What do you think it’s all about? Can you think of something I may have missed?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

 

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part One

Published January 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Its a new year and time for some more short stories. I usually do short stories in three month blocks however I’ve been struggling to keep up with this so instead of calling this post January to March I shall call it Part One and see how I get on! This is what I’ll be reading in the first half of 2017:

The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge – If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published September 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s If It Keeps On Raining all about?:

If It Keeps On Raining is the story of a troubled man who is preparing for a flood by building a tree-house and a raft.

What did I think?:

With every story I read in this beautiful collection by British author Jon McGregor, I become more and more certain that he’s one of the literary lights of modern times. His imagination, vision, storytelling and wordplay are exquisite and ever so clever and If It Keeps On Raining is another example of his writing genius. As with many of the other stories in this collection, the author tells us so much but with a lot of subtlety and gentle hints, so in fact, the reader is kind of guessing what he might be implying about a certain character or situation.

From the very beginning of this short story we are introduced to a man who appears to be quite troubled. He wants an unnamed someone in his life to know how he now begins his days. We guess that he is now divorced (the clues are all there but it’s never mentioned explicitly) as he is proud enough to announce that the house he lives in now belongs to him and him alone. How he begins his days though is quite strange, although consistent. Like clockwork, every morning he opens his door and empties his bladder onto the stony path from his front door leading down to the river. He finds a great amount of peace and satisfaction from this act – perhaps in a way, it’s a two-fingered salute to his ex in that he can do whatever he wants now? Including having a pee on his own pathway?!

As he urinates, his head is chock a block of many things that often go round and round his head in a circle. He looks at the river, the boats and the people on it and imagines disastrous scenarios that may occur if say, one man from a regular boat that goes past were to fall in the river and drown. He compares the river on several occasions to a surging crowd, perhaps one at a football match being crushed and pushed against a fence. It is also implied that our character may have been a police officer, possibly at a traumatic event such as Hillsborough which has caused him such mental anguish that he has had to quit his job and now fills his days with ruminating on the outside world and the terrible things that can happen.

He’s a source of amusement for the men at the yacht club, which he rarely goes to as they seem to find the fact that he is building a tree-house and a raft highly entertaining. He finds some comfort in the fact that at least when the flood that he knows is coming arrives, he will be prepared and they will be washed away by the high river water. Our main character is obviously a man with a darkness in his past but seems to be perfectly happy in his own company and preparing for the disaster he believes is inevitable.

This was a beautiful little story and one of the longer ones in the collection which I was pleased about as I think you needed a bit of length to get to grips with this man’s state of mind and his suffering. As I mentioned before, I loved how we weren’t given the evidence of what had happened to him in cold, hard facts – everything was just suggested and depends on the readers own imagination and interpretation to try and figure out what exactly is going on. Hey, I could be completely wrong but I really enjoyed making up my own mind about our character’s personality and tortured past! Wonderfully clever and definitely worth a read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – April to June

Published April 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months in my Short Stories Challenge! The first few months of this year have whizzed by and I’ve found some great pieces of short fiction to add to my collection. Here’s the stories that will take me right through to the summer:

Week beginning 4th April

Elephants In Captivity (Part One) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 11th April

Space by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 18th April

If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 25th April

The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 2nd May

Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 9th May

The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Week beginning 16th May

The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 23rd May

Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 30th May

Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 6th June

The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 13th June

Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 20th June

What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 27th June

A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge – We Were Just Driving Around by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published January 4, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s We Were Just Driving Around all about?:

This story focuses on a group of lively teenagers in a car, being young, enjoying themselves and talking about their hopes and dreams.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, I have so many things I want to say about this story I’m a bit worried I’m going to get over-excited and forget about them all. I’ve praised Jon McGregor to the skies before after reading his previous short stories in this collection but this one really knocked my socks off. All the stories in this book are based in the Lincolnshire fenlands, England (fenlands = naturally marshy region, thanks Wikipedia!). Each story also bears a subtitle for the local village/town where the story is set and in We Were Just Driving Around, the setting is North Ormsby.

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Our narrator is one of four teenagers in a car enjoying a speedy drive around the countryside with his friends Josh, Tom and Amanda. The music is blaring, to the extent that our narrator notices that things appear very picturesque outside comparing it to when you’ve got your headphones in while walking down the street and things appear to be happening around you as if you were in a film. This took me a couple of re-reads to understand until I pictured myself whilst wearing headphones and it’s absolutely true – he has a wonderful way of putting certain feelings into words!

Josh is being particularly vocal in the car as he regales his friends with his hopes for the future. He has had a brilliant (according to him) idea of developing a gourmet snack business. This involves anything you could possibly think of eating when you’re not in the mood for something big made for you to go within minutes. As his friends laugh and gently tease him he is determined that his idea is genius and he will be a millionaire. However, as with all the other stories I have read so far in this collection there is a slight edge to this happy-go-lucky narrative. There is the sky turning a “shadowy blue,” the tyres of the car seeming to leave the road at one point and indeed the extreme happiness of all the teenagers in the car (is anyone ever that happy?!). Then before you know it, the author pulls the rug out from under us with a complete killer of a final sentence. Damn you Jon McGregor, I was feeling very comfortable there!

This is a fantastic story that I really need everyone to go out and read immediately. The author seems to choose every sentence, every word even with military precision and thought and although this story is a mere three pages long it grabs your attention and makes you feel so much for characters you’ve barely had a chance to get to know. Due to the story ending on an almighty cliffhanger, a lot is left up to the readers imagination which some people may find a bit frustrating but I believe works so very well when written by an author of this calibre. It reminded me of my own teenage years and the wave of extreme emotions both high and low that often accompany this time. There is no better feeling sometimes than being with a close group of friends doing something exciting and having the time of your lives and I think Jon McGregor does a genius job of portraying this. He is a talented and phenomenal writer that I feel compelled to shout about from the roof tops just so other people can have the same experience that I’ve just had.

If I haven’t convinced you to read the story yet (and at only three tiny pages you really should!) why not listen to it on the Bloomsbury website HERE?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Chamois by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point.