Monday 16 March 2020

I'm Afraid That's All We've Got Time For by Jen Calleja (prototype)

I'm not yet sure whether this will be a daily blog, or something less regular. I'll aim for the former, for now, and we'll see how that goes.

What form these blogs will take is also uncertain. Perhaps no more than a title, and an author and their publisher, with a few thoughts. Perhaps (and probably) something more extended, about the publisher's backlist, forthcoming titles, that sort of thing. I shan't write about anything I don't like.

No more throat clearing. To business.

This is, let's agree, a golden age for short story collections. Recently highlights (all from small presses, who share an admirable commitment to the form) include Eley Williams' Attrib., Wendy Erskine's Sweet Home, June Caldwell's Room Little Darker, Hugh Fulham-McQuillan's Notes on Jackson and his Dead and David Hayden's Darker with the Lights On.  

186pp ISBN 978-1-9160520-5-5

I'm Afraid That's All We've Got Time For is a collection of short stories by Jen Calleja,  a poet, writer and translator shortlisted for th
e 2019 Man Booker International Prize for her translation from the German of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands (Serpent’s Tail). 

This, the author's debut collection, is a real discovery.

The first (very short) story, 'Town Called Distraction', couldn't be more prescient, set as it is in a future society in which free movement is severely restricted (for reasons unrevealed), and one in which social encounters are followed by the application of hand cream. It's very unsettling in its edgy tone and lightly-deployed surrealism:

I started walking towatds the bridge, but very slowly. I was worrying, I remember, about whether things would turn out alright in the end, if things had already gone wrong sometime up to this point. On the way I saw a cash machine, but decided not to check my balance. It looked a lot like an arcade game with its fully-flashing colour screen, full quantum. Where is my money? There's more money than there is money, there's more money than there is needed for the whole world to be OK.

Critics like to use the phrase 'deceptively simple' when describing the slightly affectless prose style adopted by many contemporary writers, and Calleja's style is certainly simple (as in plain and unadorned) but never, I'd say, deceptively so. It is confident, direct, not consciously 'literary'.

There are twelve more stories making up this impressive debut - terse, bright, chillingly original fictions that offer welcome distraction, if not consolation, in these dark days.

Next week's launch has been cancelled (along with all other  book launches, which may be no more than a blip on history's radar, but a loss that is sorely felt, not least by the authors). But don't let this fine debut slip through your net.

Order I'm Afraid That's All We've Got Time For direct from the publishers.

Prototype is an East London-based indie press, and clearly one to watch. I first became aware of them through Astrid Alben's outstanding poetry collection Plainspeak (among the best-designed poetry collections of 2019, not to mention the brilliant content). Their chunky, large-print paperbacks have a distinctive look and feel, and their back list deserves a closer look. Get involved!

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