Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The View from Endless Street - Short Stories from the South of England by Rebecca Lloyd

I find posting on collections of short stories very challenging.  The temptation of most seems to be to rave on in a sentence or two in metaphor laced lines that have little concrete meaning on a few stories then generalize on the book.  To me this is not really the proper respect due an artist who might well have put decades into a book you can read in a few hours.  It also does not give thoughtful readers much insight into whether or not the book is for them or not.  My attempted method is to talk in some detail about enough of the stories to give a feel for the people, plots, and themes you will encounter. Then I will conclude with my suggestions as to who should read the collection.

My bottom line on The View From Endless Street is that it should be read by all lovers of superbly crafted stories that exemplify the Frank O'Connor vision of the best of all short stories as vehicles to speak for the voiceless, the marginalized and the left out.  There are lots of ways to be left out or marginalized, one way is poverty and many of the people in the collection are below middle class standing.  I think The South of England, the locale of the stories, is meant to stand for a place left out or forgotten in the boom years of London.  

"The River"

"The Island swayed gently on its outward journey and Grandpa lay languid in the midst of it.  As I watched the beautiful serenity of the floating trash, I felt awe, if awe is a solemn kind of thing that reaches deep inside you". 

The lead story in The View From Endless Street is sad, joyous, despairing and a beautiful way to begin this wonderful collection.  Set in a small town in England, it centers on a young woman and her grandfather.   The grandfather loves to spend his time fishing for eels.  She has to watch him as recently a big eel almost pulled him in the water.  Some of the eels are huge, four foot long and a foot in diameter.  The grandfather, maybe he knows his days are numbered,  is sort of watched over by his as he has seen better days.   The river is  very dirty and there are floating islands of trash. To some they are trash but under that we see an ancient fisherman's floating grave.  I totally love these lines.

"The River" is a great story, about aging, love across generations, finding meaning where others cannot.  It connects the mundane debris of poverty to ancient warrior rituals in a very powerful close to the story. 

"Castle Street in June"

"He'd come to know finally he'd never had anything to lose from the start and the thought was a strange and bitter irony that would never leave him".

"Castle Street in June" centers on two very alone people living on a run down Castls Street.  One of the things Lloyd does with a subtle brilliance in her stories is to show us the hidden similarities between seemingly unlike persons.  Teresa has been badly at sea since her long time life companion passed away after a long and lingering disease of the blood.  She is terribly isolated and has, in an acute device from Lloyd, the visibility in the neighborhood of a very old elm tree.  To her, a water meter man is cherished company.  In the old days door to door salesmen would call and have tea but even they no longer come.  Lee has returned, alone, to the street of his youth.  He too walks the streets to know purpose.  Lloyd gives us the freedom to wonder where he was all the years he was gone.  Both feel there is no meaning left in their existence.   They cross, not strangers in the night, on Castle Street.
This is a beautiful story about the missing from social media modern life people, the kind of people Joyce and Chekhov wrote about when they helped shape the modern short story.

"The Women"

"After Patricia left, Mother began to to howl, a wild noise so drawn out and haunting that Charlie left home without his coat."

"The Women" centers on a grown man of somewhere in an unspecified middle year and his mother.  It is just such an intense tightly written story that I find it hard to write about.  Partially this is for personal reasons.  Charlie takes care of his mother, both are what I will call for lack of a better term delusional.  It is very hard to tell what actually takes place in the story and what is conjured up by dark involuntary memories.  As the story opens the mother is telling her son about two women, I could not quite tell if they were real or not, that visit her and drink her whiskey and eat biscuits with her.  They may be real people who are preying on her.  Charlie changes the locks in the house so the women cannot get back in and they do not return, though they may try to open the door with their old key.  We don't know as we are seeing the event partially through the son's perceptions.   The son does have a job, working at a warehouse.  His biggest preoccupation is his collection of Confederate Soldiers.  He longs to get away but guilt and maybe his knowing he needs the relationship as much as his mother does keeps him there.  There is a lot of depth of understanding of the mutual dependency that can develop under the circumstances in which Charile and his mother live.   We also learn a lot about what it is like to be poor, old or mentally dysfunctional in south England. 


"Raptor" is a very interesting story.  It has significant similarities to the other stories I have talked about but it is also very different.  The lead character in "Raptor" is not really in poverty as are the characters in the prior stories I talked about.  He owns an aviary and has several of his employees are falconers.  Falconing is by and large a rich aristocrats story.  Seven years ago Violet walked in and Robert hired her.   Over the last seven years she has borrowed about £500,000 from him, claiming her father is a fabulously wealthy man who will soon settle a fortune on her.  There is a well of loneliness in Robert that makes him want to keep believing this absurd story and keep loaning Violet money, to the destruction of his business.  

There is much to think about in "Raptor".  Why does Robert want to help Violet?  Why is she his seeming only relationship?  What is the real history of Violet?  why does Robert keep seeing her even after she is exposed as a thief and a fraud?

"The Balloon"

 "The Balloon" has three characters.  An elderly widow with swollen legs who owns a novelty story, a decent young man who is in her place installing new carpet and the carpet installer's girl friend.  We learn about her in conversations between the other two characters.   She is is an artist.  She makes paper mâché.  She has yet to make a sale.  She sees her boyfriend only when she feels like it and seems to use her so called creative nature as an excuse for selfish behavior.  A funny and sad catastrophe occurs when the man's surprise gift of an engagement ring goes very agley. The conclusion is very visual and I enjoyed imaging it.  The old lady gives him some good advise as the story closes.

"The View From Endless Street"

The  title story, "The View From Endless Street" echoes many of the themes of the collection.  The central character, Ronnie, lives in a council house.  Like other men in some of the stories, he has kind of an arrested emotional and social development. He has an assigned social worker so maybe there is an impairment in his mentality that requires this.   The dominant figure in his life is his deceased mother.  He often thinks back to a brief relationship he had in his teenage years with a neighbor girl, Lilly May.  He has stayed on Endless street all these years just so he can once and a while see her from his balcony.   She never moved. Ronnie got away with something terrible long ago.  Just another denizen of Endless Street.

I greatly enjoyed read the stories in Rebecca Lloyd's The View from Endless Street.  There are twenty stories in the collection, each one very interesting and acutely perceptive.  The people in these stories are those left behind in the boom years of London, they don't read George Eliot or Proust, consume coffee costing three pounds a cup at Starbucks, most probably don't even have Twitter accounts.   They are the voiceless marginalized people that some of the greatest of all of the world's short story writers have taken as their subject matter.  By this I mean writers such as Mansfield, Chekhov, Joyce, R. K. Narayan, and Frank O'Connor.  This collection needs to be read slowly.  I read about a story every three days so I could let a story sink in before I began the next one.  Some I read several times.

I endorse The View From Endless Street without any reservations.  

Ms. Lloyd kindly allowed me to publish one of the stories from the collection and there is a link to it at the top of my post.

Author Supplied Bio

I was born in New Zealand, and spent the first half of my childhood in England and the second half in Australia. At least that’s what I always thought until recently, looking at the dates of our voyages from one side of the world to the other, I discovered to my amazement that I’d only spent four years in Australia, and yet it feels as if all my young life was spent there. If I could return to one place in my childhood, it would be the ruined tennis court at the bottom of our rambling Sydney garden. One end was dry and full of insects and the other was permanently under an inch of water and teaming with pond life. I wandered between the two environments trying to understand how nature works. Of everything I learnt there, nothing was as extraordinary as the evening I stood in the dry section after dark and became aware that the ground was covered in thousands and thousands of tiny luminous discs. It was as if the sky had fallen to the ground and dragged the stars down with it. I realised after a while that the discs were the underside of the lid that trapdoor spiders make to conceal their burrows in the daytime, and that the luminosity of the lids attracted insects to the burrows after dark. These spiders are not deadly, in fact some of them like to play dead, but this isn’t the same thing.

As an adult

I spent the first part of my adult life working in science, but it was a very closed world and I was restless; I wanted to know about other cultures before I got much older. So I took an MSc. in tropical diseases diagnosis - and went to work high up in the mountains of Tanzania in a remote hospital laboratory where on the top floor you often walked through the clouds themselves. Because I had studied anthropology, I was able to use those skills to (partially), win the trust of the isolated tribal people who lived there. I had a visitor from England once who set off with his camera into the forest and I found out later that ten tribesmen had tracked him all the way, and he never knew a thing about it. When I asked them why they did it, they said because they could. The stories I heard and the experiences I had up there in the mountains, both terrible and wonderful, were awesome, and I began to write things down - anecdotes, beliefs, stories, hopes and fears. I saw a lot of death and poverty, and I saw extraordinary beauty both in nature and in the kindness of people. I didn’t know it then, but in recording the things I heard, I had taken my first steps as a writer. In the same way that my four years as a child in Australia feels to me like a whole childhood, my two years in Africa feels like another whole lifetime.

As an author

Once back from Africa and living in East London, I began to write short stories and made some early attempts at novel writing. I was also very much engaged with the local communities as a victim support worker. I had direct access to the lives of people I never could’ve met in any other way, and those experiences, although never told directly in my stories, were inspirational. I was very moved by what people told me and by how they lived and what they thought. My story ‘The River’ which won the Bristol Prize in 2008 was my farewell story to life in East London. These days, I live in a kinder place, and although I have never sought ‘social safety,’ I have been aware that as you grow older, there’s a balance to be struck between the energy that’s taken from you by the environment you live in and the energy that’s left for writing. So although the young people’s novels I have written are fantastical, they are, I hope, grounded in real life. I write fiction everyday. I work directly onto my computer, but do have a notebook which is almost constantly with me when I’m out. The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is how to find a sentence, phrase or description I remember writing in one of my notebooks, and need to use. I write in a small and cluttered room which gets alarmingly cold in the winter – I have a pair of fingerless gloves. On the other hand in the summer, I can sit with my feet on my big windowsill and write while looking out at my garden where, due to the enthusiasm my neighbours have about wildlife, a great diversity of insect, bird and plant life is all around us – as well as newts, frogs and toads of all sizes.

Things you didn't know about Rebecca Lloyd

  1. I love moths, and the English names for them; they are poetic and fascinating – Lover’s Knot, Hart and Dart, the moth Uncertain, Mother Shipton, Cream-spot Tiger.
  2. I think I would like to go up in an air balloon, but I’m also nervous of heights, and so now I just watch them floating over my house in the summer and wave up to the little people in the baskets, and imagine they can see me and are waving back.
  3. My garden is full of toads, frogs and newts, and every night in summertime I go out with a torch and see how many of each I can spot.
  4. I’m very bad at wrapping presents; I always make a real mess of it, and have been advised that I should use tissue paper.
  5. I think I should swim more because I do love it, but I never seem to be able to fit it into my day.
  6. I don’t know if I was a day-dreaming child or not, but I wish that the idea of day-dreaming was thought about more kindly by adults, because in day-dreaming you are using your imagination, and it is a precious thing.
  7. When it isn’t cold or windy, or raining, I love to take my bike out and cycle down leafy lanes and along the side of the river.
  8. I love clouds and how you can imagine faces and animals and landscapes in them. I’ve watched clouds since I was little, and think I always will.
  9. My favourite food is prawns – I could eat them till the seas run dry.
  10. In my best dreams, I am flying, sometimes above fields, sometimes high up by the ceilings in vast rooms.
I hope to do a Q and A with Rebecca Lloyd so please look for that later this year.

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