Eliza is a new writer I met at a Bookslam event in Clapham, London. She read a section of one of the short stories in this collection (L’Etranger) and I was hooked straight away. I bought the book afterwards and had a quick chat with Eliza, who was lovely (plus she signed it for me!)
This collection is made up of 17 short stories, of which L’Etranger is actually (in my opinion) the strongest. Each is wonderfully weird, picking up on the intricacies of human life, the strange parts, the sometimes grubby parts. In L’Etranger, a girl buries slugs in her hateful room-mate’s jar of chestnut spread before discovering that said room-mate might in fact have breast cancer. In Ship’s Log a boy and his grandmother decide to dig a hole to China as a form of grieving for the boy’s grandfather. We are taken from Lisbon to the pacific, Earth to planet 51 Osiris C, we spend time with Bea and Huck who catch hummingbirds and band them, with Gail who likes to study dead foxes by scooping them up in her brother’s butterfly net, with the determined Sid who has “quit the library and quit town, in pursuit of Autumn.”
Robertson is immensely talented. Her prose is startlingly original, uniquely odd, Lorrie Moore-esque in its fearless use of language. Lines jump out at you and mundane objects take on new significance, so beautifully are they described: artichokes are “jumbo globes the colour of lizard bellies” that “bob off the stalks like street lamps.” She explores grief, loss, healing and the art of survival, all the while maintaining a sense of calm control; every word is perfectly in place, every word counts. In Thoughts, Hints, and Anecdotes Concerning Points of Taste and the Art of Making One’s Self Agreeable: A Handbook for Ladies (the longest story title in the book) Robertson gives a chilling account of a woman weathering small ‘domestic storms’ who knows that the best way to remove bloodstains from your husband’s waistcoat is to try molasses or peppermint oil; she makes sure to spoon it on in the shape of a heart. In Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive we hear about the CBC news story of the disappearing animals, and find the culprits feeding the camel dates in the middle of the night: “[The camel]’s teeth are broader than I figured, and thick. I can smell the sugar off his tongue as he licks the date from my fingers.” There are not many writers out there at the moment that can come up with that sort of image.
Vancouver-born Robertson is definitely one to watch; while studying in Norwich she received the Man Booker scholarship at UEA and Wallflowers won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013. She has been a finalist for the Journey and CBC Short Story Prizes and is said to be working on her first novel; I for one will be in the queue.