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on 4 April 2017
Bought this book for a class, but ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Marek's ability to mix fantasy and reality is top-notch and wonderfully entertaining. For more than a couple of stories in this collection, I found myself wishing there was more. The characters were well thought out and the situations they found themselves in were unreal, yet believable and poignant. Favourite stories include 'Jumping Jennifer', 'Testicular Cancer vs. the Behemoth', 'Robot Wasps', 'iPods for Cats', and 'Cuckoo'. I know that's like, most of them, but it's that good of a book. Buy this. Read it. Normally
I don't read a lot of short stories, but this book is definitely worth your time. 10/10 would recommend.
Also, Adam just seems like a nice guy. He came and spoke to my class so that was cool, and he had some interesting things to say. He laughed at my joke about whether the measurements in '40-Liter Monkey' are accurate, so that's a plus. And he signed our books for us, so that was pretty cool.
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on 30 December 2007
I love this book. When I was young I was a big Roald Dahl fan, and I still am. Marek's stories reminded me a great deal of Dahl - they are very funny, and they are very grotesque.

My favourite story is The Thorn. A young boy gets a splinter in his toe, which his gran and grandad help him to remove and I'll tell you something - it ain't a thorn. I writhed while reading this one, Marek's writing is sublime and I felt the young boy's pain.

My favourite thing about this collection of short stories is that, unlike Dahl, they read as fact. Marek makes every idea seem believable, without a hint that these ideas should be nonsense. Name me one person who hasn't lived in a giant centipede's lair, or gestated 37 babies.

I have to say, everytime I came to the end of a story and saw the final paragraph in sight, I was gutted. This book is brilliant.
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on 27 November 2007
I'm a big fan of JG Ballard. His short stories captivate my imagination; a recognisable world that suddenly twists, normal people go off-course and get caught up in major terrorist plots, crime, and strange internal or future worlds. So I was pleasantly surprised on picking up this book that Adam Marek takes the reader into a realm that strikes resonances both thematically and stylistically with Ballard and other authors such as Paul Auster and Douglas Coupland.

The stories are addictive and instantly readable, the first is about a man who goes to buy a new pet for his girlfriend and enters a closed and suffocating world of the pet shop owner who measures his animals in litres, and prizes his 40-litre monkey beyond anything else. Another that had me laughing out-loud and genuinely crying was the bizarre yet somehow poignant tale of Brendan and Doris, and their extreme multiple birth (37 babies to be precise). All of the characters are recognisable, their traits, their thoughts, their flaws. It is the extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves that bring the stories to life.

As I travel to work by train, this book was ideal - the stories last just long enough for the journey, or are perfect pre-sleep wind down. But what really got me is that they stay with you. I keep thinking about the man that tried to find his sub-conscious, or how the loss of one of the babies made such a mark on Brendan. I've read another book since and these stories are still there, filtering through and making me think about how we make sense of our selves in what can be a really strange world.

I'd recommend this book, it should be celebrated for being a really good collection of short stories. It's not about them being easier or quicker to read because they're short, they work like this - it's how they should be. That said, if Marek does write a novel it'd go straight on my Wish List.
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'Instruction Manual For Swallowing', Adam Marek's first collection, appeared in 2007. It gathers fourteen stories, of which a handful have appeared in anthologies and magazines.

Marek is still a relatively young writer, but was already in his thirties when this book appeared, and had developed a consistent voice. Typically, the tone is straightforward, even flat: there are no verbal fireworks, and Marek's narrators are ordinary people with no special powers of understanding - though they encounter others who are less predictable.

Marek decants some of these people into situations in which ordinary life, with its sushi bars and iPods and art galleries, is transformed by an eruption of the bizarre. Some find themselves subject to cartoonish social torments. Others inhabit nightmarish parallel or future worlds, in which they labour against grotesque odds to perform a version of normality. Little is explained.

Adam Marek is writing about our world, with its familiar gadgets and cultural memes, but his stories range further: they are not limited in imagination to the hermetically-sealed world of the metropolitan middle-class. Nor is Marek frightened of being thought low-brow for treating themes more familiar from SF and fantasy than from literary fiction.

On the other hand, I found none of these stories particularly memorable. The best seem to aspire to something like Kafka's atmosphere of existential strangeness and dread, but lack that writer's compelling power. The lesser stories are variations on familiar themes in recent popular fiction and cinema. There is throughout too great a dependence on the device of refusing to explain, which aims at the fascination of the enigmatic but risks leaving the reader marooned with a sense that the stranger events of the stories are essentially authorial contrivances - strangeness for strangeness' sake, effortful and unmotivated. There is a feeling of falling between stools: of a writer who isn't powerful enough to aspire to the heights, but can't reconcile himself to writing out-and-out popular fiction for a mass audience. The stories that stay closest to the everyday are the most convincing.

On balance, 'Instruction Manual For Swallowing' is worth glancing at for anyone interested in contemporary British fiction. I found it too derivative of its influences to be of more than passing interest. Adam Marek has since produced a second volume of stories, which I haven't read.
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on 17 August 2010
Adam Marek's first wide scale appearance was in the Bridport Prize Anthology 2003 and again in 2005. Recently, on the National Short Story website, he has contributed a pair of witty and poignant self-help articles: Five mistakes I made while trying to get published and Seven motivational tools every writer needs. In-between, many of his stories have been shortlisted for a variety of awards. This first collection contains a mixture of 14 such stories spanning 209 pages.

The 40-litre Monkey: A visit to a pet shop turns bizarre as the shopkeeper is fixated with sizes; winning prizes for increasing the volumes of his pets, specifically his monkey, Cooper. This is a funny yet absurd tale made real by delightful dialogue and a punchy monologue. The first paragraph is an ideal example of a simple yet attention grabbing introduction that entices the reader to keep reading.

A Belly Full of Rain: This story creeps towards the limit of 8000 words, but it needs to for it tracks a most unusual pregnancy, seen from a hapless male perspective, who only wants a son, not a football team times three.

Jumping Jennifer: The only story in this anthology viewed from a female perspective. Why did she do it? Why would such a beautiful girl with everything going for her try to kill herself? This hollow feel story is more about friendship than suicidal thoughts as three students debate the cause of the Barbie girl's decline.

Testicular Cancer vs. the Behemoth: Godzilla meets Jungle Jim, only Jim is dying. On the surface, this premise is predictable, but the fantastical takes a back seat as our hero battles to come to terms with the Big C, whereupon monster and disease merge to become a thing of beauty.

Sushi Plate Epiphany: A tale of infidelity; a warning to all husbands considering straying. The description of the allergic reaction to raw fish is exactly how it feels.

Boiling the Toad: Daydreams of sex during an assertiveness course turn into a nightmare for our nameless male as Ovaltine Audrey takes charge of the bedroom, the graveyard... even her parents' home is not safe from her perverted fantasies.

Robot Wasps: Welcome to a future where a license is needed to procreate and golden wasps serve no purpose. High-tech gadgets are everywhere, but life is made no easier. Money problems abound, broken love needs mending, and those damn wasps stop our elderly gentleman from rescuing his tomatoes from solar flares.

The Centipede's Wife: In every anthology there is always one story that does not float any boats. This strange tale of guilt and remorse has none of the `Marek touch': of humour or believability.

iPod for Cats: Music from a lost youth, a persistent cat, a weird road-kill collecting neighbour and a blossoming love affair with occupational therapist, Jess, are all thrown into the washing machine of Mr Marek's mind and out spins another warped yet convincing tale, which is perhaps an affirmation of life after death?

The Thorn: A wacky story from a child's viewpoint that kept me guessing right up to the complete yet somewhat abrupt ending.

A Gilbert and George Talibanimation: Starts as a quiet, grey story about two lovers drifting apart but ends in a surreal fashion with Luke and Gemma being clashed together like cymbals. All this during a visit to a peculiar art exhibition in London. Oh to visit the Tate Modern again!

Cuckoo: A babe suffering colic drives our nameless man away from his wife Beth, to find Alice, a clever and mesmerising young lady of sixteen, who is uncannily similar to his own daughter, Isobel. This story of guilt and a thirst for knowledge becomes a tightrope walk to pedophilia, and is arguably the best in the collection, even if just for another excellent opening paragraph.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing: On a whim, our nameless male decides it is time to re-write his subconscious. What harm can it do? One night, following a suicidal ritual, he enters that nirvana state and his subconscious, his Busta, is not at all what he imagined - neither is the lonely, complicated, boring and unrewarding work he is forced to take over. This story is distressing yet funny; sad yet with glimpses of wonderment.

Meaty's Boys: Another morose tale of flesh-eating zombies, and Reed who has to join the boys, the crew, who go out every night to catch turners to be eaten in a cafe. Love is woven into the story, too, and some of the revulsion Reed experiences when he has to hack and chop the turners gives makes one's spine shiver. A most disturbing, yet also strangely satisfying story that is the biggest in the collection, topping the scales at a whopping 12000 words approximately.

In summary, none of Mr Marek's stories can be easily pigeonholed. The only traits that linger are finding the woman/keeping the woman, where said woman is more often than not portrayed as the trouser wearer. Upon reflection, is this not a reflection of life? Oh, one final thing, please, no more sushi bars! If you need further proof of Mr Marek's prowess, read the articles mentioned at the beginning of this review, then, maybe dip a toe into his website, where you can read more about this ingenious author and his work; you can even listen to him reading two stories from this anthology.
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on 12 February 2011
I think it's a real shame that short stories don't get the attention that larger tomes get.

This collection is at the top of the tree when it comes to unique and interesting ideas. Mr. Marek writes with a great prose style and pulls you into these very different worlds story by story.

I bought this on the review basis that it was a bit like Roald Dahk and that seems true to me, the stories seem like Roald Dahl for the generation that grew up reading Dahl and are now adults.

I was smiling as the stories developed and took me on some very imaginative journeys. Great reading and as I think Iv'e underlined a very good collection indeed. Quirky and Contemporary.
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on 5 May 2008
Pets being sold by volume rather than weight, extreme multiple births, a giant talking centipede and flesh-eating zombies might seem unusual literary bedfellows but this collection of short stories is proof that original thinking and entertaining writing is (thankfully) still out there. Perhaps even more surprising is how easy it is to fall under Adam Marek's enthralling storytelling style so that the seemingly bizarre appears entirely believable, if never ordinary. I too await a novel from this talented writer who is a real breath of fresh air.
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on 6 June 2010
The stories all have ordinary premises mixed with surreal psychological twists which are perculiar in their witting charm. The story of the 37 babies was painful but gripping, who would have thought of such a premise for a story? Admittedly I haven't read something this good in ages. It feels like something new, like a mutated Ballard or Kafka novel in short story forms. Definitely a writer to look out for in the future.
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on 2 January 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book of short stories, they were quirky and beautifully written. I particularly enjoyed 'The 40 litre monkey' and 'Meaty's boys', it would be great to see the latter expanded into a book. Marek's work is both entertaining and thought provoking, with lovely descriptive pieces.
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on 10 June 2013
I'll keep this short and sweet as the 'McEwan meets Cronemberg' sums this up well. Marek is very good at exploring human truths through his unconventional stories. This is truly wonderful stuff.
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