Book Review: The Pricklet

pricklet

The Pricklet, by Mazin Saleem, is a tiny book – a noveletta. Described as a companion piece to the author’s novelette, The Prick, this short story is told from the point of view of a baby as he develops from newborn to toddler. Make no mistake, there is nothing cute about the protagonist. As is their wont, this small human is entirely self absorbed as he tries to navigate an existence that is constantly changing in ways he often resents and is trying to make sense of.

At the opening of the tale the baby’s needs are met through the supply of his mother’s milk. Parents are referred to as Tits and NoTits. Baby cannot understand the point of NoTits as none of the ‘good stuff’ is supplied by him. Baby dislikes when NoTits seeks attention from Tits. By making noise, this situation can mostly be rectified. Descriptions are graphic with no gloss or attempt to make any of the bodies appear attractive. Baby’s wants are focused on being filled up with delicious milk.

As time passes things change, and not for the better. Baby is put in a barred box, alone. Tits has the temerity to leave him in a place with other babies and making noise doesn’t bring her back immediately. Baby is trying to work out the differences between Tits and NoTits and what this means for him. He is trying to interpret the meaning of noises his parents make and why they sometimes stop him exploring the differences in their bodies by touch. The noises they direct at each other also raise emotions that can be difficult to interpret. He is shocked when they first shut a door to separate themselves from him.

A crisis occurs when Tits denies baby her milk. What is the point of her if she will no longer supply what he wants?

The directness of the descriptions can at times appear unpleasant but it is fascinating to consider why this might be. Issues raised offer much to consider, especially in the expectations parents have of their young offspring on whom changes are imposed without explanation. Baby’s demands are selfish but also a futile grasping for agency.

Baby’s views of the roles of Tits and NoTits change over time. It is disturbing to think that this could plant the seeds of future gender bias.

A short but imaginative tale offering a fresh lens through which to observe behaviours during the early months of life. We may never know how babies actually think at this stage in their development, but it is interesting to ponder if it could be like this.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Open Pen.

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Book Review: The Prick

Open Pen aims to encourage

“growth within our talented, fertile, literary underbelly. We are a platform for up-and-coming writers from all backgrounds, with particular interest in working class writers.”

The Prick, by Mazin Saleem, is one of Open Pen’s novelettes – there are currently five of these available. Each offers a topical and thought provoking story that cuts through the gloss sometimes applied to apparent reality. The authors are not afraid to say it as it is.

This tale opens with a young couple, Will and Agatha, during the final week of what they had planned as a year long world adventure (don’t call it a holiday). They are in Greece preparing to go snorkelling. Once out in the open water, Will gets caught in a riptide. He is rescued by a bodyboarder, Roland, who is part of a stag party. Feeling that he owes the man his life, Will seeks Roland out to offer his thanks. Thus begins a decade long ‘friendship’ between two men who all but despise what the other chooses to be.

The chapters deal with ‘That Day’, ‘The Day After That Day’, ‘A Week After That Day’ and so on, as Will and Roland meet up socially and quickly come to realise how little they like each other. Will considers Roland to be a prick for the way he talks and acts. He is, nevertheless, strangely fascinated and obsessed. Much to Agatha’s bewilderment, Will stalks Roland over social media, relaying what he finds as amusing anecdotes to his friends. Without Will’s feelings of obligation, these friends are bemused by Roland where Will is often appalled. Somehow, though, he cannot break away. They attend the same parties and partake in mutual interests together. It is a fascinating study of how frenemies choose to interact rather than seeking avoidance.

There are many cringeworthy moments along with humour in the story. Both men behave badly at times. Roland appears content with his actions. Will, a seeker of admiration and affirmation, feels vicarious shame.

The climax occurs when the men go on an adventure holiday together. Thrown into extended close proximity, there is a dangerous reckoning. The denouement offers added depth and is skillfully rendered.

When stories as satisfying as this can be told in just over a hundred pages I am left wondering why we need so many lengthy books. I will be looking out for further work from the author. This is an entertaining and recommended read.

The Prick is published by Open Pen.