The Unlost by K.L.Gillespie


I’m baffled by this collection. Let’s look first at the positives.

K L Gillespie has an individual voice, a uniqueness of vision and an imagination that can dance seamlessly between the playful and the macabre. She’s clearly intelligent, sensitive to what might be called the compulsive personalities of her subjects and has the ability both to shock and amuse. Her perceptions frequently go beyond the traditional ‘norms’ but she manages to make them accessible and acceptable to the reader.

She’s also prepared to test and explore the limits of the short story form and some of her effects are achieved with admirable economy. (Check out the flash fiction ‘Dinner Date’ to see what I mean.)

So far, so good. Then there are the nice stylistic touches that lift some of the narratives out of the ordinary. Sometimes they bring a smile, as in ‘Four minutes later at 10:37 a.m. Pam’s soul rose from her body. “Thank Christ for that,” she said as she counted her fingers and checked her toes.’ Sometimes, they imply deeper truths under the surface, as in ‘Someone threw a coat over Pam’s corpse, a shred of dignity in the circus of death’. And sometimes, their economy is painful when, for example, they extend the abuse to which a character has been subjected into her afterlife: ‘The coroner’s hands were buried inside Pam’s stomach up to his wrist. It wasn’t painful but she felt violated to the core’. Then there are the word choices that hit the mark exactly, as when a character refers to his need to collect sanitary waste as ‘my despicable alchemy’.

The humour is often triggered by a linguistic awareness that springs nice little surprises, as in the opening lines of Sometimes: ‘Sometimes I lose my mind. Last week I left it on the bus’. That’s a clever effect in itself but she then develops it with the same easy, seemingly artless wit: ‘… and my husband had to go to the depot and pick it up for me. He didn’t want to, said he was too embarrassed but he was hungry and I couldn’t remember how to cook dinner without it’.

Then there are the throwaway classical and other references – to Plato and the River of Plegethon, the Charles Bonnet syndrome and the (admittedly less satisfactory) familiarity with Dali and surrealism.

All very positive, as I said, implying a writer in control of her material with a broad referential framework and sensitive to the power of the imagination and the words she uses to project it. But why oh why does she not give the same degree of attention to the editing process? I know we’re all guilty of missing typos. They have a way of slipping through the tiniest of filters. But here they multiply through all the texts and they’re not just the occasional mis-spellings.

Inauspiciously, they begin in the tautologous opening sentence when ‘Pam’s body was found wedged behind the door of a public toilet at 10:31 am on Monday morning’.

Thereafter, it’s easier to list them in categories to convey just how frequently they intrude. There are the inevitable apostrophe errors – not just the recurrence of ‘it’s’ for ‘its’ (because that’s not even consistent), but also the plethora of ‘ordinary’ omissions: ‘she pored over the coroners every move’, ‘discussing last nights television’, ‘my patch is as wide as a tom cats’, ‘the size of a mans head’, ‘her new lovers mouth’, ‘it will wait patiently for tomorrows’ post’, ‘for gods sake’, ‘partners make concessions for each others happiness’, ‘everymans fantasy’, ‘my best friends husband’, ‘his minds eye’. They also appear where they shouldn’t – in plurals, for example: ‘there are so many wannabe’s out there’, ‘pornographic photo’s’, ‘it’s like showing new boyfriends photo’s of me in the bath’, ‘silk stockings and stiletto’s’.

Next, there are the lapses in grammar: ‘They soon bored of her’, ‘Pam sunk her teeth into Rollo’s arm’, ‘Dali sunk down’, ‘I’ve drank blood with Aleister Crowley’, ‘The velvet tones of the night time presenter rocks me gently’, ‘the heightened state of my senses allow me to experience each note’, ‘it was criminal the way they treat him after the take over’.

And how can someone who produces the expression ‘my despicable alchemy’ write sentences such as ‘He was mortal and I envy him of that now’ or ‘a group of Italians chatter away quickly to my left while an American lazily notice the obvious to my right’?

Four times ‘afterall’ is used as a single word, while ‘anymore’, ‘everytime’ and ‘rushing head long’ also appear, along with the word(?) ‘hypnogogically’.

Bafflingly, given that the material is pretty explicit most of the time, later on we come across the word c**t – yes, with the asterisks – and yet lower down on the same page, there it is in all its unasterisked glory.

Little attention seems to have been paid to the formatting either. The author’s name appears on a couple of occasions, mid-page, mid-text, and the stories follow hard on one another – last line, title, first line – with nothing else to indicate any narrative change. Paragraphs are indented or not as the case may be, with no real or apparent rationale.

The positives with which I started are real and valuable. I find it astonishing that a gifted author should pay so little attention to the editing process. Given that conventional attitudes to independent and/or self publishing are so ready to consider it inferior to ‘real’ publishing, we really must take responsibility for maintaining the highest quality standards.

 Reviewed  by Bill Kirton

Available  in Kindle format

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