First things first – yes, this book is by the daughter of Kazuo Ishiguro. And while the first books to bear his name were novels, she has done what so many of his contemporaries – Ian McEwan et al. – did, and started with a collection of short stories. This particular example is thematically put together, to show us people in a state of leaving or wanting to escape. The writing is lovely, clear and bright, and in showing us the unusual situation and/or character, it slightly nudges towards the fantastical, if not the full-on fantasy.
We start with a visit to a liminal place, Brighton Beach, and the coincidences that force together a young lad who thinks the world will be alright when he becomes a magician and turns eleven at the same time, and a chancer in the seaside fortune-telling business. This is almost a novella, at over fifty pages, but is an appealing piece, whatever one wishes to call it. Second is a very well-wrought male voice, as a newly wed man witnesses his wife buy a humongous stuffed bear at an auction when they only went for a sofa and/or some handy furniture. Again, we’re not here for Angela Carter-styled fantasy, but any unease or break from the norm seems to be manna from heaven for this author to write about.
However, talking of novellas, a large proportion of this volume is one long piece, split into three chunks, that I never found much favour with at all. Concerning a rat-catcher in a kingdom where he’s very busy, and the king that lives a simple woodsman lifestyle, it had the one key, fun scene, but was never something I took to at all. Luckily, then, we have the remaining works – a lodger and the landlady’s space-fixated son; a young woman finding solace from her grief on the roof of her flat; a young man worried about the soulless drift his London life seems to consist of, while his counterpart just gets more and more busy and more and more mentally fragmented – possibly due to something as simple as coffee.
This is a clever amalgam then of the mundane and the extraordinary, with real people doing daft things and remarkable things happening to common people like you or I. In the finish I don’t want to belabour what I dislike about it – it’s just misfortune that the piece I could have done without was the largest – but I would want to belabour the riches here. Naomi is now the second generation of her family to get a UEA degree in creative writing, but is not just following in her father’s footsteps, for these waymarkers to a great future are very much signposting a long career in her own right.
John Lloyd 4/4
Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro
Tinder Press 9781472264855 hbk Feb 2020