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I finished reading Joseph O’Neill’s Good Trouble last week and had said at the time that it was very unusual for me to be able to sit down and read a book of short stories from start to finish in the order that they were ordered. Surprisingly enough the same happened again with Darragh Fleming’s Book of Revelations.
This is the first publication from the young Cork author and it is an impressive debut. The most striking element is the voice. It goes without saying that any novel or short story or any piece of fiction really needs to have an original voice. Sometimes, it can take a while to establish a voice. Sometimes, it is a matter of finding it and having the confidence to recognize your voice. In the case of Darragh Fleming he brings us a strong new voice right from the first page. The stories are also written in a very distinct style which Flemming refers to as conversational.
But, and perhaps more importantly, the stories are very engaging and readable. This is all the more impressive if we consider the stories deal with very sensitive topics such, for example, euthanasia and homelessness while often veering off into what could only be described as the bizarre. But, regardless of the style and format they are always entertaining.
As will be clear from the discussion I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories. That being said, I would raise one point. In contrast with the short stories of Good Trouble which ended without providing the reader with a neat tying up of the plot. This is something which many readers find very unsatisfying but for me it is one of the great elements of the short story. As a snapshot there is no beginning, no end just a fragment.
In the case of The Book of Revelations Fleming tends to build more ‘complete’ stories: you could almost call some of them fables. This is not a criticism and I am sure that the majority of readers will prefer this. It also gives Flemming the chance to make some powerful philosophical points in some of the stories.
For example, there is the first story of the collection: ‘There’s a Lack of Youth in Asia’. Here the author skillfully builds up the tension from the start. This is crucial in the short story format and Flemming nails it. I must admit that not identifying the main character at the outset of the first story was a great idea. It left the reader to imagine all scenarios. The revealing of the character at the very end just took something away from it (for me) though it did allow Flemming to make a rather powerful point about the treatment of older people. In this story we see a first person account of loneliness and a wondering about the protagonists place in the world. Would anyone miss them if they were gone?
There are also some rather bizarre stories. For example, we meet a scientist who performs outlandish experiments in the pursuit of knowledge in ‘4 Minute Phone Repair’. We are firmly in the world of science fiction. Unlike some of the other stories the philosophical aspect drops out and we are left with a someone who can just write a great story. You might scratch your head at the end and wonder what just happened but I, for one was certainly, entertained.
We meet the same scientist in another story: ‘An Origin of Celery’ as he slowly turns into a piece of, well, celery. Flemming is probably at his best when he let’s his creativity take over. It actually made me think of Aidan Fitzmaurice’s Arachnophilia in terms of the confidence to just be bizarre and feck what anyone else thinks. ‘The Jay-Zeus Crisis’ is a story which follows a gang of lads on a weekend of drinking. However, it takes a sharp detour and turns into a parody, if that is the right word, of Jesus and the twelve apostles. But as with all of the stories: it is engaging from start to finish.
One of the most poignant stories in the collection comes near the start: ’46A-pathy’. It tells the story, once again in the first person of a young lad who is on the way home from work. It is a very evocative reflection on homelessness and how individuals can so easily sit by and do nothing.
There is much to admire in the collection. Fleming himself gives a big slice of credit to Blindboy’s own collection of short stories which gave him the confidence to publish this collection. Sure, they are different from traditional short stories but there are a lot of traditional short stories that I would not have much time for because I just don’t find them that interesting to me as a reader. That is not a comment on the writers or the stories. We all have our tastes and we all want to be entertained on some level. It is certainly great to see a young writer having the confidence to go out on a limb and commit to a collection that does not fit easily into any pre-existing genre. But, that is also a strength of the collection. If you ever thought that you would never read a collection of short stories then maybe ‘The Book of Revelations is the ideal place to start.
One of the most interesting stories in the collections come near the end: Raindrops and Snowflakes. It actually surprised me a little. The story consists of an elaborate metaphor which discusses our society by talking about raindrops and snowflakes. It sort of sums up the stories in the collection. They all draw on Fleming’s creativity and with the help of a confident voice we get lots of tension and lots of insight and whether you are a raindrop or a snowflake I think you’ll find this collection to be a entertaining and stimulating read.
The Book of Revelations is written by Darragh Fleming and published by Riversong Books.