I must say I tried to stay cool before reading Gebbie’s new collection of short stories and flash fiction. Her first collection Words From a Glass Bubble was exquisite: the stories were unique and authentic, the characters felt like I’d known them for years, and the narrative voices were both peculiar and particular, and all the more endearing for that. I was both excited and a little skeptical, thinking, No way Gebbie can pull it off again.
And she made every aspect of story-telling appear so natural and unconstrained. It’s almost like slipping on ice, Oops, she did it again, made us fall in love with her.
There are many stories that stayed with me. Since I have been through war, I can relate and quite appreciate the way Gebbie treats war. I have particular love for sappers (ever since I read The English Patient), and like Gebbie’s treatment of that bizarre profession (I think her father was a sapper).
There is one story that stands out for me, “Letters from Kilburn”, which has an epistolary form, and consists of the letters exchanged between an Iraqi boy Karim Hussein and Her Majesty’s Deputy Secretary. Karim writes to the Queen to ask for help and after a few standard answers, suddenly we discover a human being, a person behind the “function.” I will not reveal much more, but want to stress that for someone who has written fiction myself, this story is a masterclass in this kind of voice. Stories that use this form to make a certain point are most often than not preachy, un-engaging, stiff, formulaic, you get the point. “Letters from Kilburn” gets under my skin.
I cannot recommend Gebbie enough. And I am looking forward to her upcoming novel The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury).