The Shieling, By David Constantine

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The Independent Culture

David Constantine's former collection, Under the Dam, was so haunting that even now, on a summer's day four years after reviewing it, remembering its atmosphere of dislocation sends a chill through me. It explored the fluidity of life; characters attempting to establish boundaries where there are none predefined. Constantine's new collection opens with a disconcerting image: the narrator's mother no longer recognises him and, he tells us, "cannot make any sounds that I recognise as words". (It is out of inarticulacy and blockages in communication that Constantine spins his eloquent stories.) The narrator then winds back through memories of a bus trip crossing the river Irwell, offering reflections on suicide, intimacy and the timetabling of life.

Beginning with a father who is literally absent and a mother mentally so, these stories flow through moments of loss and loneliness. They are sketched with a poet's precision image, and shining through is the hope that language might offer solidity. The Shieling displays Constantine's gift as a short-story writer, with some tremendously eerie tales not to be read too late at night or alone.

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