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Bad first impressions eventually give way to some enjoyable anecdotes
on 24 January 2012
105 pages into Amazing Fishing Stories comes the following sentence: "Fishing tales don't necessarily need massive fish to make them stand out in the memory." I'm glad author Paul Knight noticed. Better late than never, but too late for the opening two sections of this book that left me cold. The first problem is that there can be a feeling off detachment as Knight passes on these second-hand tales in a short story format and has to balance the desire to remain faithful to what he's been told and keeping the reader hooked. His poetic licence is an open admission and it can be little coincidence that his own reminiscing is where the writing is most effective.
The second problem is the book's (probably unintentional) misleading title. Very few if any of these fisherman's tales could truly be regarded as amazing, but too many at the front end are concerned with little beyond the alleged amazingness of the fish itself and fail to back it up with an engaging story. You may as well forget about the events leading up to the catches and just list the sizes of the fish caught. What would Freud say about such preoccupations?
As I read through the slippery tale of a massive conger eel, 'Attrition and Slime', I was waiting for the conger to come back to life after being captured and lugged around a house to minimal comedic effect. The eel remains thoroughly dead and so it seems feels like another unsatisfactory snapshot in a tedious slideshow that you've found yourself being forced through. Thankfully, later on, when the book gets good, there is zombie fish redemption in the form of a reanimated pike that recovers from two blows to the head and a spell out of water, presumed dead and ready to eat, only to become the star of a BBC TV show. Now that's a story!
After the faltering start, Knight's collection of fishy anecdotes begins to reel the reader in with the third section, a handful of ghost stories. Any concerns that the safe bet of ghost stories are an anomaly are thankfully put aside as the remaining sections succeed in keeping the book chugging along nicely. There's still a miss here and there but such downturns are outnumbered by the hits. There's one called 'Don't Mess With The Joker'. The prankster in question is Ron Simmons, whose idea of a practical joke is to put sugar on his fellow fishermen's chips or lugworms in their sandwiches. To be honest, those are the actions of a complete and utter git! And as the title tells you, he doesn't even get his comeuppance, but it's that kind of personal touch that sees the book at its most effective.
There's nothing to say you have to read Amazing Short Stories in the order intended, so if, like me, you find yourself with the urge to give up on the book early on, wade in the deeper waters of pages further in and seek out some of the highlights.