Twelve Stories of Obsession, Loss and Getting in a State
I have seen people comment on how this sequence of stories needed to be savoured and considered and that’s definitely true. There are layers within each of these stories and connections that create a fascinating latticework of ideas, theme, time and character.
My favourite moments in the collection were those that most clearly explored the intimacies of relationships. The first two stories were perfect for that. Island Gardens starts in London, though flits to Moscow and, briefly, to Spain. This movement in memory, thought or place is echoed in the technique. Storming the Bastille contains similar movement. Greg and Nikki are a young couple who have been dating for two years, though have yet to have sex. Only in the Hotel de Crillon, she says. At one point, when Greg has been ‘held up’ (I won’t ruin it) and they have gone back to the Hotel Vivienne (definitely not the Hotel de Crillon), you think they might finally make love for the first time. Except the narrator skids away, commenting from a place and experience years ahead.
‘Six years later, in a hotel room in the Marais, Greg will pace and fret – the room reminds him of her, this night, the two years.’ The movement allows us to reflect on this moment, which we return to, now weighted down with future knowledge, older and unable to see this moment with the excitement and promise as the two of them might. It’s not deflating either, it doesn’t strip the story of its purpose which you might think it could. The sensitivity and skill of the writer needs to be acknowledged here and the way this story ends is all the more beautiful for it.
Not forgetting Stokes’ trademark humour that I enjoyed in his debut novel Touching the Starfish. The contrast between Grant in Island Gardens and the Reverse English he (fatefully) meets is hilarious:
‘You well bate, blood?’
‘You done now, blood, I’s banking.’
The Syllabus of Errors is a fascinating collection of discussions on the ephemeral nature of life. The transience and impermanence of love which can be, as we see from one of the characters, Ludo, who dwells on a past love, utterly enduring. The physical movement, the almost dizzying layers of place, together with the temporal movement echoes, for me, the reality of us. All the hopes and disappointments. We’re the sum of every obsession, loss, and ‘getting in a state’ that we experience.
Occasionally I felt a little dense to appreciate all the complexities of the Syllabus, but that’s something to do with my C- awareness as opposed to the A+ writing (that was cliché, wasn’t it?) That’s as maybe, but this collection certainly isn’t and contains stories to read and return to and which, somehow, will change and expand and alter, just as you do.
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