'when the fictional stakes are raised, these stories can be both involving and satisfying. One to watch. 'by Sameer Rahim / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Blind Water Pass by Anna Metcalfe (JM Originals, £10.99)
The purpose of JM Originals, the new imprint from established publisher John Murray, is to take a chance on young, talented writers whose work is not necessarily commercially oriented. It is an ambition to be applauded, and has produced work of startling quality. Their latest writer Anna Metcalfe, born in 1987, has produced an elegantly written collection of stories, Blind Water Pass.
The strongest of these disprate tales is “Number Three,” which was nominated for the £30,000 Sunday Times short story award. It follows the disruption in a Chinese school when a lazy English teacher comes to work there. The focus here is not the teacher, but a certain Miss Coral, whose job it is to keep him in line. It works because Metcalfe’s settled style as embodied by Miss Coral—characterised by cool control, emotional restraint and a temperate register—is forced to confront an obstinate or unknowable fictional counterpart. “The Professor,” a low-key but poignant story, tackles the budding friendship between Ruth and an elderly female academic, who meet after their shared apartment block catches fire. Ruth thinks they will be friends but it never quite comes off. And in the excellent “Mirrorball,” a young girl rather creepily finds herself turning into her father’s young girlfriend.
Metcalfe’s less successful attempts are those in which she seems to retreat into her comfort zone of restraint, and makes the drama too internal. There are a few too many stories here where the reader’s reaction is a shrug of, “Beautifully done, but so what?” But when the fictional stakes are raised, these stories can be both involving and satisfying. One to watch.