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The first thing that struck me about Communion Town was the premise. It's an interesting idea, bringing together a collection of ten short stories that attempt to capture the heart and soul of an entire city. Each story focuses on different people at different times in the city's history, but all trying to offer some insight into the place that they inhabit.

The big question though, is does it actually work? Well, for the most part yes, it does. I'll come back to that later. First off, a quick look at some of my favourite stories.

Gallathea - A down at heel private eye searches the endless city streets for a missing person. This may be the standout tale for me. I suspect the book blurb writer may agree as it's directly mentioned on the back cover. Thompson gets the detective noir flavour of this spot on. Add to that a surreal layer of what may be mind-bending time travel and you'll find one of the some of the collection's most intriguing moments right here.

Good Slaughter - Reminiscent of Joseph D'Lacey and his rather wonderful horror novel Meat, this story follows an employee of a slaughter house as he comes to a shocking revelation about the work that he does and the city as a whole. Possibly the darkest episode in the novel, and all the better for it. There is a raw quality to this story that makes it suitably shocking.

The Significant City of Lazarus Glass - Meet detective Peregrine Fetch, Communion Town's very own Sherlock Holmes. He is endowed with the keenest of analytical minds and uses it to unravel the sinister crimes of the city's criminal fraternity. Fetch's latest case finds him tasked with uncovering the individual responsible for the deaths of the great detective's own contemporaries. This story made the collection for me. I think I could happily read an entire novel that focuses just on Fetch and his investigations.

The Rose Tree - Walking the streets of Communion Town after the sun his gone down is not the brightest of ideas. Ask Dilks, the owner of The Rose Tree Café, and his various clientele. Another story that veers towards the darker side of city living.

From my perspective, this collection improved the further I got into it. I wasn't really sure about the first few stories but Gallathea had me hooked. Good Slaughter is a horrific little gem and The Significant City of Lazarus Glass was pitch perfect. Those three stories are worth picking up the collection for alone.

It feels like some of the tales dance around the periphery of genre fiction while others are more fully committed. Perhaps I'm just not good at picking up on the subtler aspects of storytelling. The ones that worked for me were the stories that revelled in their genre roots. Others felt too ambiguous, like the author couldn't decide if they were genre fiction or not. My concern is that this ambiguity has the potential to be a little divisive when it comes to readers. If you're going to write a genre novel then embrace it in its entirety.

Overall the collection is a bit of a mixed bag. The stories that I enjoyed I really enjoyed while the others left me a little cold. That said, if Sam Thompson decides to right an entire novel featuring the characters in The Significant City of Lazarus Glass I'll be first in line to read it.
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on 19 March 2013
It's been a while time since I've read a contemporary, mainstream work, that could be categorised as 'literary fiction', the last one was in August last year, and that one had a strong genre slant, as it was a post-apocalyptic tale. And while Communion Town certainly has genre elements, for me it falls squarely in the literary fiction section--and yes, I agree, literary fiction is as much a genre as speculative fiction, but that's a wholly different discussion and an entirely different post. This collection of ten stories is difficult to describe in one adjective. Interesting doesn't do it justice, because it's more than that, it was a thought-provoking read. At the same time, I found reading it really hard work, having to reread passages quite often and generally reading at a slower pace than I usually do. But while at times a bit of a slog, it was never boring. So I find myself at a bit of a loss as to how to judge this book. Taken separately, I'd say many of these stories are quite good, while those that don't stand as well alone are enhanced by the whole. However, I don't know whether I'd say that the collection as such worked for me, mostly because despite all being set in the same city, I kept looking for a further cohesion between the tales, a theme if you will, which they all shared. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it, but I'm not sure whether that's a failing of the text or me failing as a reader.

In fact, there were some returning threads, such as the Flaneûr and the man who wants to share his story. There is a lot of loneliness and lost people. Communion Town isn't a happy place. Beyond that the true nature of the city remained elusive. Sometimes it felt like Victorian London, sometimes like a place in a totalitarian state behind the Iron Curtain. Sometimes it would seem any modern, contemporary city. But most of the time these senses of time and place got disturbed but an unexpected element from a different time, because a character is said to wear jeans or to use an anachronistic device. In addition there are lots of different genre influences, but nothing strong enough to tip the collection solidly into the speculative or crime fiction arena. There is some horror, some supernatural elements, lots of gothic and a large crime component. In fact, The Significant City of Lazarus Glass is largely shaped like a Holmesian mystery.

Thompson conducts some interesting prose experiments, such as in the titular story were the reader is being put in the seat of Ulya and the story is told in the second person by a nameless narrator. It creates immediacy, confusion and irritation. Immediacy, because the you addressed seems to be the reader, confusion because it never becomes clear who the narrator is and why you're having this conversation, and irritation because the narrator is rather smug and keeps telling you what you felt. Gallathea features a circular narrative, where the story starts with a question circling round to the beginning again, but never quite answering the question that starts off the story. Good Slaughter told is partly in the first person present, shifting to first person past and back to present, creating a sense that the narrator zoned out for a few seconds and the story is told in that short flash before the action resumes. The stories often feature nameless main characters and/or narrators - such as in The City Room, The Song of Serelight Fair, and Outside the Days - which I'm not really used to.

My favourites were unsurprisingly the ones that served up the most familiar elements to provide some footing to get my bearings story-wise. They were The Song of Serelight Fair which is a love story and the story of how a relationship and the expectations of the other can stifle one's soul; The Significant City of Lazarus Glass, which is both a murder mystery and a meditation of the nature of memory and the possibility of the mnemonic techniques, such as the memory palace; and The City Room, which didn't really have any strong genre elements, but whose main character, who displayed some symptoms of having a disorder on the autism spectrum, was quite compelling to me as I have a lot of experience with kids that have an autistic disorder. All three of these gave lots of food for thought, despite being hung from more recognizable tropes, especially The Significant City of Lazarus Glass and its fascinating play with memory, reality, and sanity.

Again, I struggled with Communion Town. I found it hard to find its soul, though arguably this was the city, which I never got a true feel for and as a consequence didn't connect to. However, there are lovely passages and flashes of beauty in the text. In the end, I think Communion Town deserves to be read for its thought-provoking concepts. You might love it, enjoy it, or hate it, but it'll exercise your brain. In the end, I'd recommend it, but with the following caveat: don't go into this thinking you'll get a nice, quick read; go into it expecting to be challenged.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As other reviewers have remarked "Communion Town" seems more like a collection of short stories than a novel. In ten chapters, Thompson shows us disparate episodes in the lives of the inhabitants of an imaginary town. The world he creates is recognisable but, with just one remark, Thompson can send everything off-kilter and we realize that the city as seen through the eyes of his characters might actually be quite different from the one we are imagining. The individual chapters are great and I think all would work as standalone short stories. Throughout Thompson creates a creepy, sometimes Lovecraftian, atmosphere infused with horror and cosmic dread. There is also a Chandleresque episode full of noirish observations (a thug looks 'about as reassuring as a vending machine in a lift') and a great Sherlock Holmes pastiche starring Peregrine Fetch, 'the man who solved the Theft of the Paper Orchid, and who exposed the trickeries at work in the affair of the Nightmare Gallery'.

Although the chapters are very different they are linked both by the city and by a mysterious man-thing who becomes more prominent (and more terrifying) as the book progresses. The subtitle of "Communion Town" is 'a city in ten chapters' and I think Thompson does succeed in mapping the place whilst at the same time showing how the same environment can be very different depending on whose story is being told. Thompson does not make things easy for the reader, and one has to be prepared for ambiguity, fragmentation, and hints rather than explanation. By the end I found myself reading back over past chapters appreciating the at first indiscernible thread Thompson had woven through them.

I'm not entirely convinced that "Communion Town" works as a whole, but I greatly enjoyed and admired this strange and disturbing novel.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an unashamedly post-modern text that is deeply critically- and theoretically-informed. If you're looking for a book with a recognisable plot, characters and central narratorial stance then this is certainly one to avoid.

Unlike some of the other reviewers here, I don't see this as a set of short stories. The fluid and fractured narrative works like a mosaic of voices which converge and diverge at points throughout the text, and the `story', if there can be said to be such an overarching thing, constructs itself in the interstices of what is told. The multiplicitous voices position this as a self-conscious move away from the authority of a single, omniscient subjectivity, and celebrate the notion of marginality, a defiant rejection of a controlling and structuring centre.

There are some extraordinary moments in this book - the `monsters' who inhabit the limits of Communion Town; the strange beauty of The Song of Serelight Fair - and an amusingly tongue-in-cheek postmodern homage to Sherlock Holmes (via Umberto Eco) in The Significant City of Lazarus Glass.

So this is ambitious, very clever, sometimes a bit too smart for its own good, but always deeply interesting. Just be aware that if postmodernism snarls up your head, this would definitely be one to avoid.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First published back in July of 2012, British author Sam Thompson's debut novel 'Communion Town' received much attention upon its release, having been longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

DLS Synopsis:
Communion Town - 26 pages
He knew so much about the two of them - Ulya and Nicolas. Ever since they'd arrived at Communion Town, he'd kept a discreet eye on them. Watching as they went about their lives. Following them through the urban grime that surrounded them. A grime that over the years Nicolas had become accustomed to. Accepted in his life. However, things would come to a head in Communion Town when a cell of ten men and women, known as the Cynics, instigated a shutdown of all access into and out of the underground transport system for the city. As the public watched through the CCTV systems, twenty-seven people were left stuck underground, with no food, water or any sign of rescue. And then the monsters arrived...

The Song Of Serelight Fair - 54 pages
He made good money at night transporting the mostly drunk and disagreeable about the city in a hired rickshaw. And that's how he first met her. His rickshaw had broken down and he was having a tough time with it all. And then ten days later he saw her again, this time during the day whilst he was working as a cleaner at the university where she studied. They talked, connected and soon enough were lovers. He would play with her guitar, learning the notes and chords. And then one day she bought him his own guitar. And his life suddenly had a direction. He had a purpose and a goal. He devoted his time and energy to writing his songs. Perfecting their sound, until he was ready to perform. Meanwhile their relationship was losing its footing. And before long his songs had the inspiration of a broken heart...

The City Room - 16 pages
He'd always thought that the room was called the 'City Room' on account of the elaborate model city that dominated the room's floorspace. A fanciful city that he had constructed from toy blocks and various bric-a-brac. Only later on in life, as he looked back at the room, he realised that he had misheard its name. Although, the City Room was far more apt than a mere Sitting Room. However, it was a small paper-man that dominated the cityscape now. A man that brought memories of wondering through the real city. Of a route shown to him by the upstairs boy. And a canal man who scared the life out of him...

Gallathea - 44 pages
Hal Moody was a Private Investigator. And in the course of his work he'd seen quite a number of strange things. And this new job was one of them. It started off with a somewhat threatening warning from Don and Dave Cherub. Then Hal found himself being approached by the very woman that the Cherub brothers warned him not to take on. But he paid no attention to the threats from the thuggish brothers. But it's the case that interested him the most. This strange young woman wanted to hire him to find a missing person. Only, the missing person isn't really missing, although she warns that he'll never find her. Because it's her that he needs to search for. And she's willing to pay a lot in gold coins for the job...

Good Slaughter - 28 pages
Over the years he had honed his skills as a slaughterman to near perfection. He never made a mistake. No animal ever suffered longer than it had to at the blade of his knife. But that didn't stop the new floor supervisor at the abattoir, Fischer, from moving him to a different section. A job that wasted his skills. Meanwhile, in the city outside, the Flâneur of Glory Part had been stalking the streets, striking in the gloom of the Market and taking victim after victim. The Flâneur was certainly a proficient killer - much like those in the slaughterhouse...

Three Translations - 18 pages
Andie had only just arrived in the city whilst backpacking when she happened to stumble across her old school friend Dawn. After the two got chatting, Dawn offered a room in her flat to her old friend - herself needing the additional rent after her previous flatmate had recently upped and left. Besides - it's a good time of the year to be in the city. Preparations for the old festival were now in motion, and it wouldn't be long before the city's traditions took place once again...

The Significant City Of Lazarus Glass - 36 pages
With the news that three of the city's leading private detectives had been murdered that very night, renowned investigator Dr Peregrine Fetch knew that his own life would no doubt also be in jeopardy. Furthermore, Fetch had more than a good idea of who would be at the root of this string of horrific murders. The felonious genius of the city, Lazarus Glass, was responsible for the vast proportion of crimes within Communion Town. A criminal mastermind who Fetch had studied alongside all those years ago. And now three of the great detectives who had worked hard to bring closure to so many of Lazarus' crimes have been murdered. Fetch is suddenly alone in solving this one final case...

Outside The Days - 16 pages
He had almost completely forgotten about Stephen when his message arrived. And upon meeting with him for the first time since they were at university, it was obvious how much this once charismatic man has changed. Now just a gaunt shadow of his former self, Stephen appeared troubled and lost. But it was not until he later called around expectantly that the sorry tale came slithering out. A story of seeking out the furthest possible reaches of pleasure - only to overstep the boundaries and be marked for life...

The Rose Tree - 14 pages
In the Rose Tree Café, he sat there in the gloom and damp of the old café with Briggs and Baggoff - two fellow regulars. As the night drew in, the owner, Dilks, poured them their whiskies, fuelling the quiet hours of darkness onwards, so that they could once again leave when the light of daybreak arrived. For no one dares go out after dark. A lesson that a group of three newcomers are soon to learn...

A Way To Leave - 25 pages
Simon wasn't exactly happy with his life with Florence. It had been a slow, gradual wearing away - so much so that he had sunk into this miserable existence without really realising it. But when he did, he'd leave Florence to the illness which had been weakening her, and go off into the city in search of the Flâneur. But he'd always end up changing his mind and return to an eagerly waiting Florence. It had always been the same. That is until now...

DLS Review:
For a debut, Thompson's 'Community Town' can be seen as a somewhat safe way to enter the literary world. Let's be honest, short stories are markedly less tricky to tackle and get to a state worthy of publishing than a full length novel. And in adopting a noticeably 'flavour of the month' prose - Thompson seems (deliberately or not) to have taken on a very calculated approach to his first endeavour.

As detailed in the synopses above, the book is broken up into ten standalone short stories which each have a binding link - the overriding backdrop of Community Town. And within these loosely joined shorts, Thompson attempts to capture a glimpse of the human interpretation from ten different perspectives. Indeed, the principal drive behind the book is that each city is different for everyone. Each person maps out their own world within the same concrete environment, and in doing so, it becomes unique to that person. And from this very nutshell, ten unique and completely different lives within the city are documented.

Thompson starts off the book with his almost Clive Barker-esque short 'Communion Town'. This first instalment injects a surprising element of mildly-perverse horror that brings back memories of 'The Midnight Meat Train' (1984). Furthermore, this constant edging towards horror is a recurring theme within the collection of stories. Alongside the first short, 'Good Slaughter', 'Outside The Days' and 'The Rose Tree' are very much within the court of 'horror'. And there's something very Algernon Blackwood about most of the shorts. It's that eerie, not-altogether-right feel to each situation. Like there's something that's not quite being said that has an eye on the events unfolding. It's a quietly spoken murmuring that keeps the reader intrigued and just that little bit on guard. And it has to be said that this particular aspect works quite well.

Thompson is also clearly quite a versatile writer - adopting different takes on the characters and style of story that he is telling. This is perhaps reflected most notably with `The Significant City Of Lazarus Glass' which is a Sherlock Holmes style of take on a story; with exaggerated superhero-style detectives and a comically surreal supervillain in Lazarus Glass. It's not only a standout short for the style used, but also for the absolute entertainment of the short.

That's not to say that the whole book is a purely engrossing read from start to finish. Sadly far from it. What soon becomes apparent when reading the shorts is that Thompson has put a great emphasis on the styling; with a raw and provocative prose being utilised, whilst the actual substance of the tales (i.e. the stories themselves) are almost an afterthought.

As such, at times the stories can become bogged down in their overly wordy passages, with very little of interest or effect transpires. There's absolutely no sense of urgency, emphasis on pace, or desire to evoke much in the way of connecting-consistency between the stories. As such, the entire collection feels almost dreamlike in its telling - surreal and almost directionless. And to be honest, it's not a particularly positive aspect of the book.

This overall sense of meandering, with far too much over-padding and which is too geared towards the subtitles of each tale, is what ultimately lets the book down. At time it's hard to stop your mind from wandering- with the painfully verbose passages edging close towards the realms of boredom. Harsh? Perhaps so, but with so little reign on the pace and direction of each short, the stories ultimately suffer from these thick patches of written dirge.

The novel runs for a total of 278 pages.
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VINE VOICEon 28 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sam Thompson's book at times reads like an exercise in style in which ten short stories are shoe-horned into fitting into a greater puzzle which is the 'City in Ten Chapters', that said it does contain some gems. The gems are 'The Song of Serelight Fair' which for a Philip K Dick fan put a noir spin on a familiar story, 'The Significant City of Lazarus Glass' which owes a great deal to Sherlock Holmes stories, 'Good Slaughter' which has the darkest subject matter of all the tales being set mostly in an abattoir and 'Gallathea' which is in the style of Raymond Chandler or other hard-boiled authors. The other chapters are a little hit and miss and I was expecting more of an interwoven storytelling experience than I got. It is comparable to the work of China Mieville of whom I am a big fan and who provides the cover blurb, describing it as 'dreamlike, gnarly and present...' I agree entirely and if you are a Mieville fan then this book is certainly for you.
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With an accolade from China Mieville I was expecting great things from this book, and sadly I was a bit disappointed.

It's not that it's bad, exactly, it's just a bit...nothingy. I was left with a sense of 'so-whatedness' at the end of it all, which is never a great place to be.
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on 8 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a novel told as a succession of short stories, linked by the City, the 'Flaneur' and glimpses of characters from other stories in the book. Like most story collections it has its weak points, and for me one of these was the first story which felt so nebulous I wondered where the rest of the book was going.
In fact it went very well; a mix of gothic horror, clever pastiche, and a dream (or often nightmare) quality that pervades the whole book.
For me, the very strong stories were The Significant City of Lazarus Glass, The Song of Serelight Fair, Gallathea, and A Way to Leave, but all the stories had merit and added to the nightmare atmosphere of the whole.
Wonder what the author will come up with next?
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on 31 March 2013
I really liked the way this book is written. In some ways it is more like a collection of short stories than a novel as each chapter sees "communion town" from a different persons point of view. An interesting book.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A hallucinogenic book. Thompson presents us with 10 chapters, each a different character describing their experiences in a city almost like any other great city: of slums, murders, subway stations, warren-like alleys and bright public façades. The Flâneur of Glory Port - a Jack-the-Ripper type bogeyman - and deformed mutants haunt the shadows in many of the stories. The narrators vary in widely in social position and the stories in timbre. A hard-boiled detective speaks as if channelling Sam Spade, another Sherlock Holmes. Slaughtermen, immigrants, reclusives, automatons, all speak and reveal a different city, one that is just slightly futuristic, tangible, chilling and mesmerising.
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