Short & Sweet: A Review Of Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish…

Jellyfish - Janice Galloway

Jellyfish – Janice Galloway

Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish, her recently published short story collection,  feels like  a call to arms on at least two fronts. In the Acknowledgements she states, “Publishers are shy of short stories in the here and now, shy like people are shy of three-legged puppies, which is to say they’d love to give them a home, but are nervous of their apparent handicap in that they are not novels.” It’s a theme she returned to while promoting the book. In interview with The Scotsman, she confesses, “I’m delighted to get this book published because nobody wants to publish short stories these days. Publishers always say to me, ‘what we’d really like is for you to get on with that novel you’re writing.” She is only partly correct in that in recent years some of the best new fiction has appeared in short story collections, but more often than not they are by new and unknown writers and are published by small, independent publishers. In that sense, with Freight Books, she has found the perfect home.

It’s something she acknowledges when describing herself as “hugely grateful to Adrian Searle at Freight for taking them on…”. Recently Freight have been responsible for memorable collections from Anneliese Mackintosh (Any Other Mouth), Vicki Jarrett (The Way Out) and Rodge Glass (Lovesextravelmusic).  Other notable recent collections include Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytalespublished by Salt, and Allan Wilson’s Wasted In Love by Cargo Publishing.  But the fact that my list is so short suggests Galloway’s complaint is a valid one.  It was not always this way.

Where Galloway is undoubtedly correct is that the short story is a form which is currently largely overlooked by the more established publishers.  At the end of the last century, and concentrating on Scotland, James Kelman’s short story collections were regularly published and contain arguably his greatest work. Lanark and 1982, Janine aside, the same could be said of Alasdair Gray.  Their contemporary and friend Agnes Owens’ short stories are some of the best examples you will read anywhere and from anytime (get a copy of Lean Tales to read some great examples from all three – it might just change your life). The next generation of Scottish writers were also well served, with A.L. Kennedy and Ali Smith (whose latest collection Public Library & Other Stories is also out now) both publishing memorable short stories in a number of collections in the ’90s and early noughties. They were not seen as lesser books, just great writers’ fiction presented in a shorter form.

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Claret And Anger: A Review Of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project…

It is all too rare that contemporary Scottish fiction looks to its own rich past to tell us something new. James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack and John Burnside’s The Devil’s Footprints are two fine examples from the last 10 years which spring to mind, and there are echoes of both in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s latest novel His Bloody Project. Channeling Robert Louis Stevenson, James Hogg and even Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s a novel which leads you down deliberate and dark dead-ends as  Macrae Burnet takes great delight in wrong footing the reader at every turn. Because of that rather than despite it, it is also one of the most enjoyable and involving novels you’ll read this year.

The games commence immediately with the Preface, which has the present day ‘author’ (who signs himself GMB) relating how he came across the memoir of one of his ancestors, Roderick Macrae, written during the latter’s time in gaol at Inverness Castle in 1896. It relates to terrible events which scandalised the Ross-shire village of Culduie in August of that year, and to which Roderick Macrae has accepted culpability. He is asked by his sympathetic advocate, Andrew Sinclair, to commit his version of events to paper, as well as the reasons behind his actions and any mitigating circumstances which he can recall, as Sinclair hopes to prove his client ‘not guilty’ for reasons of insanity.

What follows is a wonderfully vivid and moving account of the life of the young Roderick Macrae, so eloquently written that it explains why many who read it at the time, according to GMB, believed the document to be a fake in the manner of James Macpherson’s Ossian (another nod to Scotland’s literary past). However, there is other evidence as to its veracity, and we are encouraged that what we are about to read is no fiction. What follows, with echoes of the structure of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, are various statements, medical reports, and other testaments from some of the individuals  who are also involved in this tale to supplement and often contradict Roderick’s memoir. Sympathies shift with every differing point of view as Roderick Macrae’s nature, intellect and morality are examined and pulled in different directions.

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