Book Review: Signal

Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. Having checked their website, these books sell out quickly.

I am familiar with the author of Signal from his recent novel, The Complex, published by Salt in 2019. Like his longer work, Signal has a dark underbelly. Framed by a contemporary town on the eve of Christmas Eve, the glittering fa├žade of partying nightlife contrasts with the loneliness behind the invisible masks people don on such occasions.

The story opens with a young woman, Kate, walking home after work. As she passes an apartment block on her familiar route she is looking for recognisable faces at lit windows – a kind of distant companionship. A glitch in her personal electronic device distracts her, after which she notices a naked man looking out from one of the top floor residences. He is not the only disturbance in her periphery. The narrative pulls cankers from a variety of encounters – perturbing imagery abounds.

We learn that Kate is estranged from her parents and that her sister died while at university. The grief from this latter event is still raw, invading Kate’s dreams. Unable to face her housemate’s plans for the evening, Kate embarks on a moonlit walk. The sense of foreboding is masterfully deployed.

“Town had a circus vibe.”

Throughout the unfolding tale the reader is kept guessing as to what is illusory and what real. Kate takes what some may consider to be risks, seeking closure on a period of her life denuded of prospects. It is not the darkness or shadows she fears but rather the relentless reality of her day to day existence. Her sense of loss pervades.

The reader is drawn into the tale, its unsettling developments rising like smoke to mingle with the vestiges of sense Kate tries to cling to. The writing is liminal, so much on the edges distracting from actions and reasoning. The denouement leaves much to ponder – vestiges of a storm in which Kate’s evening was the eye.

A study of grief and loneliness set around the season of glitter and hollow cheer. A broodingly atmospheric and memorable read.

My copy of this story was provided gratis by the publisher, Nightjar Press.