Close by James Robertson

B+W, 1991. 144p.

(The cover shown on the right is different to my copy’s. My Library Thing link showed the correct one.)

This is a collection of 19 short stories – some very short indeed. Their settings lie mainly in Scotland and explore a variety of domestic and other situations but a few consecutive ones are set in the USA (where some gentle fun is poked at USians’ feeble grasp of the geography of the wider world) and one features Australia.

The most successful are the longest two A Little Irony, where a female artist uses photographs of her narrator boyfriend’s penis in an exhibition, and What Do You Want, How Do You Feel?, about a marriage going through a rocky patch. These feel more rounded perhaps because their length gives room for character exploration. The latter also comes closest to providing the standard twist that people used to expect of a short story.

The social background of Bottle, wherein ne’er-do-weels are employed inside bottle banks, could almost be read as SF. As indeed could Problem, where a man’s wife reveals that she is in fact (or has somehow become; it’s not quite clear) a man. Within the story this sort of transformation appears to be a wider social phenomenon.

Robertson can certainly create atmosphere. The first story, Border, isn’t about much (a young boy travelling north by train looks for the border point after Berwick) but says it well.

If I have a criticism it is that a lot of the stories tend to peter out rather than end. Indeed there is one which finishes with the words, “Any time now something would happen.” Isn’t it the happening that a short story should be about?

Despite this stricture, Close is a well rounded and diverse collection.

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