Name: Salt Modern Stories Number: 8
These are tales from the post-industrial scablands – stories of austerity, poverty, masochism and migration. The people here are sick, lonely, lost, half-living in the aftermath of upheaval or trauma. A teacher obsessively canes himself. A neurologist forgets where home is. A starving woman sells hugs in an abandoned kiosk.
Yet sometimes, even in the twilit scablands, there’s also beauty, music, laughter. Sometimes a town square is filled with bubbles. Sometimes sisters dream they can fly. Sometimes an old man plays Bach to an empty street, two ailing actors see animal shapes in clouds, a cancer survivor searches for a winning lottery ticket in her rundown flat. And sometimes Gustav Mahler lives just round the corner, hoarding rare records in a Stoke terrace.
‘Scablands is a splendid collection of clever and energetic stories, shot through with darkness and sadness, wit and love.’ —Alison Moore
‘Powerful tales from a master story-teller. Devastating, disturbing and tender by turns, these vivid vignettes explore seams of horror and pain as people struggle to survive the modern world. Taylor peels back the skin of the urban wasteland to reveal that however broken his characters and however wretched their conditions, what mostly remains is love.’ —Maggie Brookes
‘Although each of these compelling stories stands alone, there are at least two possible links between them all: first, the political nature (with a lower-case “p”); and second, the desperate need these characters have for connection in this isolating world. Such themes unite them as a collection. This is a short story collection that I strongly recommend.’ —Ruth F Hunt, Morning Star
‘The images created in these stories linger long after the book has been shut: an Andy Pandy Nightdress, a soldier digging in the mud, a girl on a till trying to pause her life and a biography completely crossed out in red pen. The stories in Scablands may be short, but Taylor’s superb word weaving skill ensures the tales last so much longer than their actual length.’ —Lisa Williams, Everybody’s Reviewing
‘Taylor not only provides evidence that as an endlessly variable, malleable form, the short story is alive and well. Indeed, he gives his readers every reason to rejoice in its continuing good health, and this, despite the fact that so many magazines and journals which used to print short stories have gone to dust. Arnold Bennett, that hospitable, generous champion of writers of all kinds, would have been delighted with Scablands, and so, for what it’s worth, am I.’ —John Lucas, London Grip
‘Entertaining Strangers made me laugh. If you are interested in landladies, eccentrics, philosophers, bad families, music, degenerates and ants, Jonathan Taylor’s entertaining and illuminating novel will make you laugh, too’ —Kate Pullinger
‘Jonathan Taylor’s important novel Melissa explores what happens when these stages do not succeed one another in a linear fashion, and when some stages (particularly acceptance) do not occur at all. Adopting an intricate structure inspired by the theme and variation technique in classical music composition, and apparently inspired by true events surrounding a collective musical hallucination, Melissa rejects the standard Hollywood narrative of adversity leading to joy.’ —Conor Farrington, The Lancet
‘This is an impressive novel, which successfully captures a wide range of themes and ideas. To me, while reading Melissa, I imagined the central story of the hallucination as the trunk of a tree while the aftermath on individual characters were like branches, heading off in different directions but always coming back to the central idea.
One of the reviews from the back cover of the book calls Melissa 'an intricate kaleidoscope of a novel' and I totally agree. This really is a must read, and deserves lots of readers.’ —Writer’s Little Helper
‘★★★★★ Melissa avoids the sensational, sentimental, and over-emotional traps and offers an unblinkered view of a family trying to make sense of tragedy. So far, it's rather like Carys Bray's A Song For Issy Bradley, but whereas the Bradleys for all their differing opinions behave as a family, the Combs lack that cohesion and act as individuals, each filled with frustration, anger and grief. Melissa is definitely a darker yet quirkier read.’ —Our Book Reviews