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Posted 20 hours ago

Because I Don't Know What You Mean and What You Don't

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I'm half amazed that a thought, a way of looking at something can just sit unchallenged, unexamined, for twenty years before you can take a look at it and realise that it's junk. Like overhearing excerpts from relatable people’s lives in a cafe, this was a pleasure to listen to - maybe a bit of a council estate Bennet Talking Heads for the next generation, and better? There’s a Dostoyevsky quote, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious: ‘Low ceilings and tiny rooms cramp the soul and the mind. The last story, in particular, felt very personal as the narrator reflects on bringing children into the world as it is today. From a woman who sees an ex-partner on a poster and defaces it, to another inundated by online gossip and gripes, to a guru slash influencer slash con-artist, these are all fractured individuals who are “just about managing” to deal with relentless reality.

I live or die for feedback, which means I’m so excited my stories are finally out there, and can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks. My favourite was 2021, 2021 but thinking back and writing this review three weeks later I can’t really remember exactly, all I know is it follows the survivor of an abusive relationship and I believe she comes into contact with her ex (the abuser) and how it was quite tense. Also, this is not an uplifting book - some of the themes are a little dark, and many of the stories deal with insecurity at some level.More than a few of the characters and stories here could have be expanded into full on big books… and I guess that’s the sign of a good story, leaving you wanting more. The walls were made of paper and in the story someone makes the mistake of trying to put up shelves and discovering ‘this is just plasterboard, this is not a wall’ and I did do that. We Decided to Leave London', for example, hinges in part on a woman's epiphany while watching a fox at night, but it's over too soon, written without the linguistic charge that would have set it apart from the story's less important observational details; 'Poets Rise' has a fantastic, George Saunders-ish conceit (a woman works at a sort of digital spy cops agency, where left-wing people earmarked as 'potential subversives' have their phones hacked and their lives messed with, to break their spirit before they can escalate into activism) but its elements feel like they have more potential than the story gives them, in terms of world-building and in putting the narrator's own life up against her job and the life of the man she's tracking.

Like Carver, Long is brilliant at writing her characters' interactions with the humdrum material world around them: its everyday objects; grubbiness, wear and tear; the existential despair that, for most of us, these are the only tools we have to excavate life's meanings. Sometimes the momentum is so slow I lost interest but when she gets it right, the ending takes on resonance and lingers like the best stories do. The lack of autonomy for the narrator in stories such as the Kafkaesque “Just An Informal Chat” and the quietly heart-breaking “Grandad” is another recurring theme.

There is a hint of Carver’s eye for the telling detail in many of these stories, particularly the opener “A Good Day” in which a group of troubled teenage girls try to convince themselves they are witches.

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. This had a very interesting effect, especially in the story in which a child was clearly regurgitating his dad's worldview. From her new home in Glasgow, the much-loved standup insists there’s much more to life than sweating on the Central line and doing hand-to-hand combat with the city’s cost-of-living crisis. And I like the idea of putting different types of energy in the book, having some stories more plot driven and some more emotional. It was going to be about a woman whose ex-boyfriend shows up in her small community and it f*** her life up.I really hope this isn't the end of Josie Long's writing career and that there's more where this came from! These are probably best not read all together, as I did, as at times I forgot which story I was reading.

This is a brilliant collection of stories, expertly told and with fascinating, fully realised characters. Although – and I always read every page – the acknowledgments end: “thank you to every landlord, misogynist, prick and Tory who inspired the villains. The first three pieces follow a schoolgirl who hates her body and her family, talking up her occult powers to get in with the cool kids; the poisonous inanity of a neighbourhood WhatsApp group during lockdown; and a woman bringing her new partner to a party where everyone else seems to have their lives much more together, "Salads on the table like nothing I've ever made myself.

This book is rife with people who exploit the desires of others to believe certain truths – for personal gain, but also just to avoid detection. And I expect a lot of readers will come to this for Long's voice and viewpoint, and will be more than satisfied.

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