It is a whole year since I became a member of that illustrious club: the Galley Beggars Singles Club. To celebrate, here’s a round-up of the sharp stories and ferocious novels published by those denizens of brave and exquisite taste, Elly and Sam at Galley Beggar Press. Go and be their buddy, why not?
RANDALL (or THE PAINTED GRAPE) – JONATHAN GIBBS: A seriously delicious novel, in which you can sense the decade of the nineties in all its glory, replete with the heady concoctions devised by the GBAs. Through the story, Gibbs creates an imaginative, daring and sensational body of art, a feat that is astonishing to behold. Gibbs coup de grâce, though, is in the way he renders the characters that people this story as human above all. The relationships that endure, albeit through many transmogrifications, are sublime.
HOW TO BE A PUBLIC AUTHOR – FRANCIS PLUG (PAUL EWEN): Francis Plug – everybody thinks they know someone just like him, but Francis is utterly unique. Naïveté tempered with a smudge of cynicism; optimism suffocated by inebriation: Francis can’t help himself and for that we want to shake and pity him at the same time, the little rascal. Francis’ book is a ‘how to’ guide, documenting life as a public author through encounters with Man Booker prize winners at ‘events’. It’s charming, funny and for anyone that’s read the books in question, there are rewarding details.
THE WEIGHTLESS WORLD – ANTHONY TREVELYAN: Featuring a rogue of a different sort, we have the unreliable, perhaps delusional, narrator of Trevelyan’s fantastical story that butts the daily oppressions we know (colleagues that are liabilities, redundancy, always saying the wrong thing to those we love) right up against the wonder of human endeavour (in this case, an anti-gravity machine). Trevelyan pairs fractious partnerships with a pitch perfect setting of the sub-continent for an Arabian riptide of a story.
PLAYTHINGS – ALEX PHEBY: Pheby’s bold novel Playthings approaches the case of Paul Schreber’s madness – interpreted by Sigmund Freud among others – and illuminates an overlooked (or hidden?) perspective. Pheby walks a tightrope between rendering Schreber’s hallucinations and unreality and allowing the reader distance to act as observer. The sense of piecing together a puzzle of cause and effect is intoxicating, and Schreber’s world is truly captivating. The enticement at the end, that borderland of partial understanding, makes me wonder how wilfully Pheby is casting us as Playthings…
Slick and scintillating singles
THE CRUELLNE -JAMES CLAMMER: Every now and then you read something that gives you hope – hope for a world in which the unusual is revered and where difference doesn’t elicit a shrinking away. This is such a story; gentle and enigmatic.
LOS DESAPERACIDOS – BENJAMIN MYERS: This double A-sider shows Myers to be a master at the art of deception – at least, where he sets you up, you can guarantee will not be where you end up. This one starts with the apparent surface of an encounter in a resort bar, and then sticks the knife right between those ribs of assumed safety and first world concerns.
THE FOLK SONG SINGER – BENJAMIN MYERS: They say don’t meet your heroes. Our narrator is doing so, and worries about whether his questions will carry the impression he wants to portray of wit, insight and stimulation. It goes without saying that he gets more than he bargained for…
PRETTY BOY TIGH – RICHARD BLANDFORD: Probably striking more of a chord with people who watched children’s TV – either in their own youth or over their children’s shoulders – this story nonetheless riffs off the momentum-building scandal of the abuses of TV presenters. I read it with growing unease and was ‘lead up the garden path’.
EXPLODING ZOMBIE COCK – JAMES MILLER: A wicked story about those drunken pranks that misfire – especially those whose consequences continue to be felt – and about the green-eyed monster. Does it live up to its name? Absolutely!
WAITING FOR CJ – TONY O’NEILL: Three people wait for CJ: A drug addict, dope-sick; a gun-toting dealer; and a mocking DEATH, having relieved himself. What more do you need to know?
BIRTHDAY LUNCH – D. J. TAYLOR: Managing to illuminate a life over the course of a sitting at the Terrapins Club, Taylor deftly constructs a character that, according to the son he celebrates his birthday with, is entirely unoriginal. There’s a feat that sounds much less difficult than it is, and it’s handled with levity and wry humour.
KNOTWEED – GARY BUDDEN: An utterly compelling story of a woman in her mid-thirties, making a new life, both literally, and for herself and her partner in a new part of London. A meditation on how pregnancy, relocation and reacquaintance can open a new set of eyes, but most poignant in the way it reveals our desire to keep some things for ourselves.
STORY WITHOUT MEANING – MICHAEL STEWART: Joanna Lumley wishes our narrator good luck, which is exactly what he’ll need if his interview with God is to go smoothly. But if you ask God, luck has nothing to do with it. 48 cans of tennants, however…
DAVE’S COMING DOWN FOR A BIT – JON FORTGANG: A menacing short that displays the shadowing potency of those friends that you can’t shake. At least, that’s what is first suggested, but soon, those words – Dave’s coming down for a bit – will take on a whole new jeopardy-edged meaning.
NUN ON A BIKE – CAROLINE HEALY: A story of biscuit tins in an age of scarcity; of the wrong side of the tracks; of a life lived to the rule of violence; of nun’s habits being more significant than bomb blasts: all packed into the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Beautiful.
ARKADY WHO COULDN’T SEE AND ARTEM WHO COULDN’T HEAR – C. D. ROSE: Chance encounters, enforced co-existence – those unexpected and transitory moments in the company of strangers can leave marks. Arkady and Artem share a train carriage with our narrator, an unsuspecting witness to the end of an era of ceaseless toil, glimpsed through matchsticks and allusion.