Portmanteau by Thom Ffynch

Portmanteau is a collection of four short stories – labelled ‘four short tales of retribution.’  By Thom  Ffynch.  Out of the Foggyley Book Company.  The cover is enough to show you this is not ‘ordinary’ ebook fare!

The four stories are:

LYNDON GRACE 

Lyndon Grace immediately appealed to me because it is a story of ‘solitary people who choose trees and sky and stars and birds for company’ and has a woodshed. At this time of year that’s important to me as I spend some time in mine.  The immediacy of the first person narration put me in mind of Thoreau and Lyndon was like a character out of a Mark Twain story.  But it’s not as simple as it seems. The story looks at the world from a different perspective and warms you up nicely for what’s to follow.  Retribution.  In a variety of unexpected ways.

THE BORDER SHEPHERD 

The Border Shepherd is just that little bit stranger.  It’s about the connection of lives and about how borderlands are the areas between existences.  The Tibetan shepherd is no more out of place than the rich man in his castle. They shouldn’t ever meet. They shouldn’t be in the same story together. But it works. Because it shows you how fundamentally different the mind set of the spiritual and  the material man are. I also liked the way I had no idea right through the story how it was going to end, or where indeed it was going to. Often this can annoy me, but if the writing is captivating enough, it carries me along and this did. The Tibetan Shepherd (who I can clearly see with his Border Collie at his side, incongruous yet ‘in’ a landscape I know well) explains to the man ‘your soul is the only thing you own.’ At which point I cheered!

 DESDEMONA’S REVENGE

Desdemona’s Revenge  shifted to a more urban environment.  Another dog – this time one who finds the dead body of a  heroin courier.  We move into a strange world populated by transvestites juxtaposed against little old ladies with their lapdogs.  All of which seeks to highlight that in life as in reading,  perspective is very important.  The author points out that there is so much in life that we don’t notice and suggests that we make up the stories out of the bits we notice, but that this is only ever a part of the picture.  He considers the defining moments of a life and the suggestion that some people are not so much successful as clever at avoiding failure.  Underlying this was the suggestion that ‘if people were as interested in the drama on  their doorsteps as they were in the daytime soaps’ we might all both see more and share more of ‘real’ life.  Again a nice surprise retributive ending that I didn’t see coming.

 THE CIRCLE

And the final story The Circle was, for me, back to the familiar natural landscape of the fisherman.  Of course, like all stories of fishing and fishermen, it’s about much more than the fish or the fishing.  The nature of a circle is considered ‘outside the circles there are possibilities, inside the circles are only certainties.’ It’s a tale of lost love of guilt and intention and motivation.  Of a man who is ‘too stupid to seize his one and only true moment.’ The author suggests throughout that life is storied and his comment on this is telling ‘above all it should be a beautiful story, containing one elegant idea… like a fond memory of a lost love’ and I feel this is what is achieved in each one of these little gems of stories.

I very much enjoyed these because they were clever without trying to be so. Profound without being belligerently so.  Complexity and simplicity married together.  They worked for me because I’m in accordance with many of the ‘elegant ideas’ contained therein and have a love of nature.  They might be far too quiet for someone wanting gritty urban realism. Though Desdemona’s Revenge might give even that kind of reader a run for their money.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips 

Portmanteau is available in Kindle format 

Find out more about Thom Ffynch 

Advertisements