Sunday 18 March 2018

Fiction: The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

Jonathan Cape, €15.99

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon
The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

Hilary A White

Just because every Tom, Dick and Harry is releasing a short story collection to tap into the current readership's attention deficit, it doesn't mean they all excel. Enter Mark Haddon (below), the English writer who had a global hit in 2003 with his bemusing and sweetly crushing adult-fiction debut The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The words "duck" and "water" spring to mind.

This first foray into the medium by the 53-year-old is a nine-strong assembly of compassionate, engrossing, often hard-edged tales of isolation and hunger (for love, safety, food itself). A housebound obese man and a local tearaway forge a touching friendship without a hint of mawkishness. On a tiny island, ancient Greek mythology and the stark cruelty of nature combine as a woman is abandoned and left to fend for herself. Scenes are constantly scorched into your mind with Haddon's dexterous linguistic branding iron. This collection brims with incident both curious and exciting, and yet displays a cool, almost detached observance of unfolding drama that is impossible to look away from. Take the title story, which is like a log of a disastrous act of god befalling a seaside resort. The Woodpecker and the Wolf, meanwhile, sees a woman on Mars ponder the existential while facing a crisis. This mini sci-fi epic, a Ridley Scott film waiting to happen, is worth the purchase price alone.

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