Science fiction and fantasy

Blind Swimmer

an anthology of Eibonvale Press Writers


Creativity in isolation is the theme of this anthology, which features work from the writers who have contributed to Eibonvale Press over its first five or six years of existence. It's a good showcase for the press, demonstrating something the style and standard you can expect from its authors.

The theme is particularly interesting for anyone involved in any kind of creative work. Great creators tend to stand apart from the rest of society, and it's this distance and difference that can give them the perspective that makes their work more interesting. Yet total isolation severs the connection an artist has with his or her audience too thoroughly, so that their work becomes irrelevant. All writers, artists and other creative types must find a way to balance these opposing demands. The contributors to Blind Swimmer have found refreshingly individual ways to tackle the issue of the conflict between connection and isolation.

In Bellony Nina Allen weaves a subtle story about the need to keep in touch with reality. It's based around a missing writer in the drab resort of Deal. Its realism is tempered by the slowly building sense that time and reality have come unstuck.

Gerard Houarner's The Flea Market begins on a similarly uncanny note, with an old man who finds some incongruous vinyl albums at a flea market. The records have an odd effect on him, causing memories of his lost loved ones to come flooding back. Decay and disintegration seep into this story, yet it still manages to be pleasantly uplifting.

Rhys Hughes' The Talkative Star stands out amongst a collection that's already fairly offbeat. It's basically a series of cheesy jokes based on what the sun might say if it could talk. It's full of self-referential, knowing lines, such as "night is about to fall and will probably endure for the whole of the next paragraph".

Hughes' contribution is cheeky and daft, and only very loosely connected with the theme, but it's a welcome change of tone. This light touch is the perfect contrast to The Man Who Saw Grey. Brendan Connell introduces readers to a painter devastated by the sudden loss of his colour vision. The painter is alone not only in his disability, but in knowing what his creativity means to him. It's a dark and shocking story which Connell tells in his characteristic way, which is to say readers will need a strong stomach.

The Book of Tides takes a more conventional look at isolation by setting the story on a remote Scottish beach, where a writer uses the tidal debris to inspire his stories. Then one day some truly awful things wash up on the tide. This is one of the stories that touches on the fine line between creativity and madness, a theme that recurs to an extent throughout the collection. Alexander Zelenyj's brutal Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations and Andrew Coulthard's Lussi Natt take this aspect still further. Characters in many of these stories go to great lengths to obtain whatever it is they need to help them connect with their muse.

For Emma in Terry Grimwood's story The Higgins Technique this means taking her experiences to frightening extremes. She wants to write erotica, and for Emma that means doing her research the hard way. It's an explicit story, as is Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations.

Another character who insists on pushing things to their limit for the sake of art is Harold Swimmer, the writer in Douglas Thompson's The Flowers of Uncertainty. Harold has deliberately cut himself off from civilisation for 30 years, living on a remote Scottish island and avoiding all communication whilst he wrote his manuscripts. His time is up, and he plans to return to the world to discover how his controversial novels have been received whilst he has maintained the purity of his self-imposed exile. I liked the ideas in this tale, and the way Harold obsesses about his impact, or possible lack of impact, on the outside world. But Douglas Thompson uses a device that completely up-ends the direction of the narrative, not once or twice but several times. By the third about turn this begins to wear thin, to the extent that it's hard to trust anything that's written. The ideas are sound, but there's a little too much uncertainty.

Blind Swimmer is an intriguing and brave collection, filled with challenging stories which often sit on the edge of genre definitions, defying our expectations.

8th November 2010

Book Details

Year of release: 2010

Categories: Books
Not For The Squeamish

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson