Joshua Perrett: Anti-espresso Literature [Review]

By Nick Kilford

Perrett leaves his readers perplexed at what they hope is not an autobiography. In fact you’ll probably ask: ‘What on earth did I just read?’, and indeed, this may well be the point, if there is one (or more than one for that matter). But the answer to that is of course a short story, perhaps a dying breed in a modern world filled with Facebook statuses about relationships that hardly outlived a gnat, and more driving certificate photos than the DVLA probably has access to. Of course these are great forums of communication, but they represent an espresso era where everything needs to be on someone’s desk the following morning. We do a lot of reading, texts, posts and anything fewer than 144 characters, anything longer is probably someone asking for a donation for something. But of course that isn’t really reading.

Artwork by Phoebe Atkey for Wilverus Thorndike's book 'Bruthcombe'.
Phoebe Atkey‘s fantastic pen and pencil illustration for the front cover of Joshua Perrett’s Bruthcombe.

If any area of literature is to be hit hardest in this climate, it is likely to be the short story. Hardly long enough to read on the tube in order to look mildly educated, since your copy of 1984 is being borrowed by your cousin while he rescues polar bears in some frosty southern tundra, and all the copies of Atlas Shrugged are used as decorations in Starbucks. Of course you could always buy one, but that would take time, and who has any of that? Do Amazon sell it? Maybe I can get a discount if they do.

But of course no-one would read that stuff really, not when there’s a new season of Big Brother coming out that I can waste away watching, it’s practically Orwell anyway. In order to read a novel it seems people need a lot of time, otherwise anything more than a meme is too much to grasp. The short story fits uncomfortably between Tolstoy and your friends on holiday and Ibiza. Too short to be good, too long to read off the cuff.

It has therefore become customary that short stories, the ones that aren’t being ignored (and that must be in the double figures surely… No?) try hard to make an impact. Like a teenager on the Voice, they must squash as many lyrical dexterities into as small a space as possible, so as to be noticed by a panel of people your Dad’s probably never heard of. The same is true of literature. A saturated market where the number of people succeeding creates the illusion that ‘anyone can cook’, as Ratatouille so brilliantly put it. When of course, not everyone can cook, but a good chef can come from anywhere. As a result, people flood, passports in hand to flee from the Republic of Anywhere to get noticed in the big city; and the truth is, many return empty handed. Some of these of course are great talents.

Perrett’s talent is loud because he is quiet. If everyone is shouting, you notice the one who isn’t. A combination of witty brilliance and sadistic unease makes this read about as surreal as a dream. His writing is subtle a when it is good, and at least interesting when it is not. Endings seem rushed sometimes, but this is not a weakness. In fact it’s satisfying. Perrett demonstrates that the short story can be like a shot of vodka, or a short song you like for its catchiness. These stories are not great symphonies of course, but they aren’t intended to be. Short, satisfying and strangely memorable, just like… Well, I’ll leave you to complete that simile. Of course to some eyes they will appear disjointed. That one story doesn’t connect to another can be uncomfortable at first, we expect it so much in what we read; and if you claw for a purpose, you’re unlikely to find anything other than someone else trying to do the same (and there’s a chance it could be the author himself that you bump into that far down the rabbit hole).

The short story is in reality not an awkward halfway place, but a perfect ‘enough’. Not too long, not too short, enough. So when you’re on the tube, instead of Instagram or Dickens, try a short story. Just make sure no-one reads it over your shoulder.

‘Bruthcombe’ is currently available for £1.99 from Amazon (click here).
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