23 September, 2015

Briar Road by Jonathan Buckley - Review

This year I am listening to and writing micro-reviews for the five shortlisted entries in the BBC National Short Story Award. Why not listen along with me?

The first story is Briar Road by Jonathan Buckley. This is a first person story, narrated by a clairvoyant who has been called in to help a family whose daughter is missing. You can listen to the fabulous Maxine Peake reading the story here.

There is something beautifully sparse about this story. The premise is unusual - not many of us will ever be in the situation where we feel the need to call in a clairvoyant to help us in a heart-breaking situation - and yet it is not sensationally-written. I would call this a quiet story in the best possible way. There is an economy to the writing that creates a believable story rather than relying on merely an interesting idea.

The contrast between the level of everyday detail and the lack of over-explanation was my favourite thing about this story. In simple language the scenes are drawn so vividly, picking up details - the smell of polish, the slight changes in facial expression - that captivate and draw you in. And yet, the actual story is subtle. There is no sudden exposition - the premise is revealed gradually and naturally, no "I am a clairvoyant" kind of revelations. You come to realise what is happening as it happens which leads to a satisfying story without being obscure.

I often find the short stories with all the accolades leave me cold. They have almost no plot and no likeable characters. This wasn't like that at all. It wasn't a thriller or a mini-saga, just a beautifully-written slice of life, albeit and unusual slice, with a captivating narrator. A great start!

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