Worlds From The Word’s End, by Joanna Walsh, is a collection of eighteen short stories that play with the meanings of words and the ideas they can convey. Some of the tales employ routine storytelling techniques, others are more opaque.
The collection opens with Two, which keeps the reader guessing what the Two may be. As with many of the stories, it references the passing of time in a not quite linear way. The setting is everyday but is inhabited strangely, reasons for this left to conjecture.
Bookselves considers how those who own books regard their possessions, how they accumulate and are used, how this changes over time. There are some gorgeous, rich phrases – books ‘fat with potential’, books left in bookshops because ‘they do not accuse you urgently enough’, books bought that now ‘ lie primed to spring, ever solicitous of your attention.’
The titular tale looks at a world that has run out of words which were too often misunderstood. It describes a relationship breakdown, where speech has failed as a means of communication:
“In the republic of words, I love you induced anxiety. How was your day? would elicit merely a sigh. I think people just got tired, tired of explaining things they’d already said to one another, exhausted by the process of excavating words with words.”
“You like women who are quiet? In the end it was not so difficult to let you go: you were only interested in the sound of your own voice. Pretty soon we had nothing left to say”
There are many interesting ideas to ponder throughout the book, although at times these rise above the storytelling, diverting attention from plot development. The insights are sharp and precise but translating relevance often less clear. Travelling Light, about the degeneration of a bulky shipment as it traverses Europe, could be a metaphor for many things.
I particularly enjoyed Femme Maison. Weaving the skeins of a familiar situation – going into a room for a reason only to be distracted, unable to recollect why there – the story explores the changing value ascribed to accumulated possessions, including self.
Two Secretaries is an amusing depiction of unacknowledged rivalry in the workplace.
Enzo Ponzo challenges normalcy, telling an engaging story from an odd premise.
The Suitcase Dog I also found odd, one of the more opaque tales.
The premise and propogation in many of the stories can be strange in places yet each contains phrases that pierce the heart of the ideas they convey. They are perceptive, emotive. Several are also disturbing.
Simple Hans depicted sex acts more graphically than I care for.
Hauptbahnhof, about a person living in a railway station waiting for a person they someday expect to meet there, could be read as devotion yet is clearly obsession.
A collection that impresses for its use of language more than entertainment or ease of understanding. This is a book I have already returned to, gaining new insights with each revisit. It is a clever if not entirely straightforward read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, And Other Stories.