Review of The Pier Falls
Mark Haddon is probably best known for his crossover novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, but he also writes accomplished fiction for adults, such as A Spot Of Bother and The Red House. This book of short stories shows his skill at mixing the darkest of subject matter with observations of the everyday, and a healthy dose of humour. With setting ranging from a seaside pier in 1970, to the Brazilian jungle in the 19th century, to an ancient Greek island and even outer space at some time in the future, these often macabre tales are filled with deeply realised characters, a difficult thing for short stories to achieve.
Two of the stories place mythical ideas into a realist background. The Island reimagines the Greek myth of Ariadne, the sister of the Minotaur, as she is abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos. Alone on the island, she faces starvation and death, a far cry from her upbringing as a princess as daughter of Minos, King of Crete. She thinks back over her recent past, how she defied her father and eloped with his enemy, and contemplates her uncertain future. Wodwo recreates the medieval mythical figure of the ‘Green Knight’ and places him in contemporary middle class Hampshire on Christmas Eve, as a dysfunctional and fractious family come together. One of their number, Gavin, commits a heinous crime when a stranger appears through his door, and his life as a popular but arrogant TV presenter begins to unravel.
"an innovative collection which offers something for every lover of fiction"
Two of the stories consider expeditions which go fatally wrong. In The Woodpecker & The Wolf, several astronauts are trapped in space when another ship with new supplies mysteriously disappears. Somewhere between Philip K. Dick and John Wyndham, this eerie tale follows one of them, Clare as she discovers she is pregnant but watches her colleagues dying one by one. The Boys Who Left Home To Learn Fear follows an unnamed narrator as he recounts a disastrous expedition to the Brazilian wilderness, and learns too late of the character flaws their leader Edgar harbours behind his bravado.
Perhaps the best stories are rooted firmly in Britain, among dispossessed and isolated characters trying to find their way in the world. In Bunny, the obese and lonely title character struggles to find any kind of life beyond daytime TV and despair, until an old schoolmate appears at his door and seems to offer him hope. The Gun is set in 1972, as a group of boys set out on an adventure around a council estate with an illicit firearm. In Breathe, a British woman returns to England after years in America, fleeing a failed relationship, to find her family in crisis. In The Weir, a man rescues a suicidal woman from drowning herself, and they begin an unlikely friendship. And in the title story, a pier suddenly collapses into the sea, killing, wounding and changing many lives in the process.
Haddon is adept at crafting short stories which feel as whole and fully-formed as novels, with well-crafted characters who are faced with drastic situations. With its mix of settings and blurring of genres, The Pier Falls is an innovative collection which offers something for every lover of fiction.
Written by Ruth, Marketing