The Separate Heart, By Simon Robson

An actor's training helps one writer bring drama to his debut collection of stories

This muscular collection of stories is a terrific debut. Most of Simon Robson's 10 fictions are satisfyingly into the 35-page range, offering a succinctly developed narrative with emotional depth in place of the more usual vignettes, sketches or bizarre interludes which often pass for short stories. None of these claim any prior publishing history. Given the quality of his work, this is either coy or staggeringly unadventurous. If Robson (right) is indeed dropping an immaculate collection upon us we should simply be grateful, for his style is witty and confident, while his robust and engaging tales are mapped out with perspicacity, exuberance and a deftly summoned delicacy of feeling. The many British readers who habitually pass over short fiction should dip into
The Separate Heart for a refreshing draught of how punchy and intoxicating a well-crafted tale can be.

Open your heart, Robson entreats, concluding most of his tales with a salvaged, life-changing moment of acute self-awareness. How actions inadvertently exploit or impact profoundly on relationships is a prevailing theme that gives this collection a cohesiveness. A boy's ungracious behaviour towards an unhappy lad foisted on him for a day of fishing leaves the boy stewing in his own ungenerosity, while the title story explores the complicities and betrayals of a neighbour's gradual penetration into the domestic bliss of a newly married couple. "The Observatory by Daylight" conjures an unlikely adolescent excitement between the quadriplegic son of a master and an arrogant public schoolboy willing to barter a blow-job from his girlfriend for a sneak preview of exam questions.

Besides fully-formed plotting, Robson's atmospheric descriptions and tactile metaphors effortlessly shoulder an emotional freight. "Emanuel pursed his lips as if preparing a berth for the approaching cigarette and watched her as she troubled the seal of the envelope as clumsily as a schoolgirl with a first valentine." This silent exchange between an octogenarian aristocrat and a family retainer compresses his patience into her nervous anticipation in a manner of essential observation often repeated through Robson's narratives. Intense exchanges rarely lack wit, but few lines are better for me than "it undoes the brassière of Anglicanism..." , which Robson manages to work into his tale of a documentary-maker's moral whiplash after unwittingly exploiting a homeless person.

British short fiction has been saddled with disrespect because too many established writers churn out mediocre collections as cavity filler between novels. Robson stands with the likes of Adam Thorpe, Helen Simpson and Jeremy Dyson as a writer crafting distinctive and excellent stories. They are devoid of modernist trickery, but Robson also avoids condescension and sentimentality. His Rada training and theatre heritage help him pull off both life and drama with brio; the few occasional forays beyond intense meditation into more numinous philosophical digressions prove slightly less certain territory for him.

Robson has appetite enough to engage with the medium itself. "The Critic " is a deliciously tart ménage à trois revolving around an obituary that, in passing, takes a humbling swipe at the critical process. This sets high expectations for the closing story, "The Last Word" , which offers a pseudo-fictional gloss on some of the previous stories. Robson pricks his protagonist, and the reader, with a sting in the tail that combines unpretentious metafiction with good old-fashioned story-telling.

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food