Sunday, 29 December 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Book Of Sheffield

The Book Of Sheffield
A selection of short fiction stories edited by Catherine Taylor
Published by Comma Press

Sheffield; an area that many think of as a city of steel and heavy industrialisation. But in reality, Sheffield has become in recent years a powerhouse for the arts, culture and for its public gardens (the Peak District is, after all, merely a stone’s throw away). This reality is reflected in this collection of short stories, all based in and around Sheffield. As outlined in the book's introduction by its editor, Catherine Taylor, Sheffield was wrongly called the ‘ugliest town in the world’ by famous author George Orwell. And I would have to also disagree with Orwell, having lived in the above-mentioned beautiful city for three years whilst studying. I found myself coming across many familiar places within the short stories, such as Meadowhall, the Botanical Gardens and Ponds Forge. For me, and I am sure for other visitors of Sheffield, this provided a friendly anchoring that allowed me to feel at home whilst reading these stories.

All ten of these short stories in this collection highlight, in some way, Sheffield’s beauty and culture. This assortment of miniature tales could not be more different in tone and style, but all with Sheffield at its heart. Helen Mort explores the loss of identity, questioning her belonging within the city of Sheffield in her sombre and almost poetic tale, ‘Weaning'. Margaret Drabble explores the idea of returning home to Sheffield, as she ‘could never resist an invitation to Sheffield' in ‘The Avenue', a descriptive narrative. Johny Pitts’ comical story in which he incorporates the local dialect of Sheffield in ‘Like A Night Out In Sheffield' brings a needed lighter tone following the two previous short stories. Followed by ‘Visiting The Radicals’, in which Philip Hensher brings to light that love will always prevail in his dystopic tale. Reynolds’ narrative, ‘BornOon Sunday, Silent' looks at Sheffield as a foreign land and uses disjointed language to reflect the character’s isolation and confusion. In ‘The Father Figure', Geoff Nicholson uses a colloquial and conversational tone, inviting the reader in as a friend. Norminton uses relevant and current themes in ‘How To Love What Dies'. Naomi Frisby's ‘The Time Is Now' tells a story in reverse order in which she opts to swap her heart for one made of Sheffield steel. Riordan conveys a humble tale of two men working hard to earn a basic living from ‘Scrap’. The final story in this collection is by far the most complex and in many ways most interesting; ‘Long Fainting/Try Saving Again’ by Tim Etchells blends narrative styles and indeed time periods with his king-and-ogre-filled fairytale merged with modern tales of technology, perhaps explaining the two titles Etchells gives the tale.

With all stories in this collection being so different, it is likely that a reader will not enjoy all ten, and will certainly have favourites. Mine here being Pitts’ ‘Like A Night Out In Sheffield’ and Frisby’s ‘The Time Is Now’. This is perhaps as both tales speak from a younger perspective and were more identifiable to me. Frisby’s creative choice to give her readers the story’s end first and to work backwards was a breath of fresh air in terms of style, making her reader hungry to discover the reasons for her key character’s choice to wear a steel heart. And Pitts’ ultimately hopeful tale of modern, blossoming love was spotted with humour and honesty.

However, the choice to incorporate ten such different narratives allows a reader to experience genres of storytelling that they would never chose for themselves. It also shows how one subject, in this case the city of Sheffield, can provoke such different thoughts, feelings and ideas. With this being the case, I believe all readers, whether novice or expert, can find something within this collection to both empathise with and to simply enjoy, especially if they are familiar with the city that binds them all together. (Quite literally when placed inside a book!)

Reviewer - Megan Relph.

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