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Nothing Is Strange Paperback – 31 Dec. 2014
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The stories are wonderful, some of the most bizarre things I've ever read, I've no idea what kind of mad man Mike Russell is, but he has to be pretty crazy to come up with these stories. Each story starts off with a brief introduction, each time I had the narrator's voice from the twilight zone reading it in my head, in fact each of these stories would be perfect as episodes. There is a quirky humour throughout that had me chuckling a fair bit. I can't really explain any of the stories as they are too surreal to shorten down into a review, here are some amazing highlights:
A man cries
There is a right hand
There is a beard
Balls of fire
And scones... yes you heard me, scones!
Everybody give this book a go, you won't regret it.
Nothing Is Strange took me on a topsy turvy whirly gig ride into my imagination and then deeper still...I'm not usually partial to short stories...I always want to know more about the characters...I want the what happens next factor. But this collection of ever-so clever and brain-prodding tales lets you visualise all that is going on, and allowed me to conjure up in my imagination not only exactly what the characters look like and feel like but also that I simply didn't need a 'what happens next'...because somehow I know! I couldn't put it down...which for someone with the attention span of a gnat is really saying something :o)
This is a book I shall return to often and one that I shall buy for friends and family as gifts. It is also a pleasure to read; decent sized type and spacing...why aren't all books made like this?
I await the next masterpiece from Mr Russell with baited breath and impatient foot tapping.
The language is unobtrusive and has been made smooth by frequent public story telling; the characters are often generic (‘a man’, ‘a woman’), sometimes identified by a simple name (Lesley, Elsie, Tom, ‘I’) and have unmarked or default personalities. The place is ‘a house’, ‘a shop’, or just ‘here’, and society is ‘everyone’, ‘we’. The focus is thus not on style, character or setting, but on the creative thoughts themselves, such as the thought of love as a physical object, (The Warehouse) of a transparent flower growing inside of you, (The Shining Flower) or seeing yourself through a telescope and waving to yourself in another universe that exists within the starry firmament of a scone-baker’s mouth (Cream Tea). Is that strange? Are thoughts real?
Surreal is an over-used word that has come to mean merely not what usually happens, but that definition will do for Nothing is Strange if not what usually happens is like an image by Magritte in which we see, for example, the back of a generic ‘man’ looking at a mirror showing the reflection of the back of the generic man. We see it all clearly and immediately understand, and in the tiniest flow of time after that we don’t understand, but the thought exists and is funny and we say hah! because laughter is the positive reaction to an encounter with an absurdity that doesn’t compute (another reaction is to be disturbed) and such a laugh is the greeting we give to something some call God.
God may perhaps be heard on the ‘most popular recording ever’, which is the sound of baby triplets being silent, the story of the recording being told to us by the man gaoled for having kidnapped the triplets for the sake of their beautiful sound or not sound (Barry and the Triplets).
Barry says from his prison cell that ‘Everything is ascending,’ and in the world of Nothing is Strange the direction of the thoughts we read is positive and uplifting, the movement often facilitating escape from a restrictive society in which ‘We never look up’ (The Living Crown). And on the point of liberation ‘we’ realise that the restrictions were our own ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ (William Blake, London).
We are guided upwards kindly and gently. There are no religious figures or texts referenced here; there are no literary references either. We are on our own. Certainly there are trace elements that give a misty retro-future British tinge to the Nothing is Strange world, but each self-contained story has a lucidity and neutrality that is close to universality.
There is whimsy but also grit, for example the policeman in The Miracle kicks a woman’s corpse and says ‘There goes my early night, bitch.’ This is, of course, before the policeman and all of us in the story have experienced the miracle of a sympathetic human tear.
Perhaps the least successful piece is The End of the Pier because it has more dreamlike mood than clear thought, suggesting rather than delineating the fruit of imagination. Yet that is still an interesting piece (told by a post-life soul) that would hold up well in many other collections.
At their best we have stories of several hundred words that evolve in paradoxically unpredictable and inevitable fashion like the changing shapes of molten wax in the translucent fluid of a lava lamp, and end with a kiss (The Meeting), or the realization that I am not trapped and never have been (Escape from the Butcher’s Shop),
Nothing is Strange is a rare work of imagination in that it does not boast of its bravado in imagining the most extreme or perverse situations, nor does it demonstrate for approval its technical dexterity, nor does is shout me, me, me and my experience, my debauch, my suffering. The focus is on the thoughts. I think you will like reading them.
Some exhibits make you think and some just result in moving a long with a shrug of the shoulders.
These stories are short - some very short (in comparison to a 100m sprint we're talking the distance a nose tackle travels in a single play)
Some in our bookclub thought being short was a mercy, some thought further development would have been good.
Overall....not the poorest book we've read, but unlikely to get a mention in our pick of the year discussion.
I'm no literary expert, but I'd say this is fairly daring writing. Importantly though, it's not difficult reading. Easy to swallow, but beware of / enjoy some very unusual flavours.
Top international reviews
In my experience, writing a weird story isn't all that difficult. Just throw a bunch of things that don't make sense together and create a narrative. But what IS difficult, and what Russell does with aplomb, is to create strange stories where nothing really quite makes sense ... and turn those stories into narratives that hold a much deeper meaning than simply what happens on the page.
These are surrealistic think-pieces. And they'll take you to wholly new places, where the absurd is the ordinary, and self-discovery is just one oddity away.
I'm not going to synopsize any of these, as they're all so short that to do so would be to spoil them. But what I can say is this: This book is absolutely worth picking up. As each story stands on its own, it's a great collection to pick up for a bit of in-between reading - though I often found myself sitting down and cranking through several stories at a single read.
Contrary to the title, in Russell's world everything is strange. But it's also extremely realistic, when you really dig into the heart of the matters being discussed. A wonderful exploration of our reality through dream and metaphor, I can't recommend this collection enough.
Addendum: I should note that the writing here isn't flamboyant or overly prosaic. But instead the stories are written rather simply, which in my opinion adds to the impact of the stories. The matter-of-fact style keeps things from becoming fantastical, and all the more relatable in their telling.
I found they were not strange just for strangeness's sake, and they are often funny. Some times maybe too much was tried to create a metaphor, when the reader's subconsciousness could have finished the job. The efficiency of short phrases and chapters was mostly good although at times I wished the story to go on. I would love the illustrate this kind of literature!
Strange, but in a good way.