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Life Here Is Full Of Tomorrows by Mélisande Fitzsimons (Leafe Press)

Life Here Is Full Of Tomorrows by Mélisande Fitzsimons (Leafe Press)

In Mélisande Fitzsimons’ latest publication, thirty-nine characters give us brief, tantalising glimpses into their lives through the cryptic messages they write on the back of postcards. The voices are of different ages, social backgrounds and ethnicities, from people holidaying in Britain and overseas. Each text is paired with an image of the front of the card, witty juxtapositions which are very much part of the work’s appeal.

The vagaries of British weather feature in a number of the messages: pouring rain, wind, freezing temperatures, a few days of sunshine celebrated as a rare treat. One writer, staying in Torbay, records ‘happily watching people’s tents blow away…it’s great fun’. Another, writing from Ironbridge, complains of having to buy a hot water bottle and about the lack of tea cosies at the guest house. This message is matched with an image of a satirical nineteenth-century cartoon depicting the hazards of rail travel. 

Those voyaging further afield include a young clubber writing from Mallorca about getting wasted with her friends, including one of the boys getting his ‘knob’ (‘you should see the size’) stuck in the toilet door. A teacher with a group of art students on a trip to Charleville Mézières complains of Google bringing up Peppa Pig’s little brother when she searches for Georges Perec. The students are ‘philistines’, but at least she and her colleague get to see Rimbaud’s house.

The opaqueness of many of the communications creates a delicious sense of the absurd, often heightened by the disconnect between text and image. A card from Tenerife showing a young woman in a bikini waving at the camera is paired with a message about a dream of crochet unravelling. The last sentence reads: ‘I think it might have something to do with that article you sent me.’

One of my favourites is from a woman staying at a hotel on ‘a cliff just 12 miles from the sea’, who says she’s ‘not that great at cliff heights.’ The message begins: ‘Had your potatoes yesterday. Hope they crack the murder case soon, what a shock for your entire community.’ The place she is staying is extremely hot, forcing the writer to ‘sit in the fishing village melting in my bra’. The card shows a painting of a distant, lone figure on the top of a cliff overlooking a sea inlet or lake. 

A postcard from Eden Valley, is equally mysterious. ‘I can’t explain why I am here or where I am from,’ the writer says. He or she seems to be trying to flee the workaday world. The message ends with: ‘Sometimes, I feel like a tree in the middle of the A38. Not everything is black and white, not everywhere a calculation, but thank you again for your indifference.’ The card shows a wide river in the foreground, animals grazing beyond, and mountains in the distance. 

Life Here is Full of Tomorrows was inspired by Tom Jackson’s Postcards from the Past. Fitzsimons’ texts cleverly mirror the clichés, disjunctions, and elliptical references of actual cards, transforming commonplace banalities into amusing, touching, at times surreal vignettes of people’s lives. This is a very entertaining pamphlet.

Simon Collings 23rd November 2021

The Grey Area: A Mystery by Ken Edwards (Grand Iota)

The Grey Area: A Mystery by Ken Edwards (Grand Iota)

For many literary writers, the mystery about mystery novels is why their purportedly formulaic structures, simplified motivations, credibility-stretching twists and over-tidy resolutions find greater readership than their own more full-bodied works. And thence they have a go at the genre, with predictably distinctive results. In Gilbert Adair’s the author did it. In Georges Perec’s the language did it. In Patrick Modiano’s the ‘who’ would’ve done it, if there’d been any ‘who’ in the first place. So, on finding that this author is the ex-editor of Reality Street, we’re basically not expecting Miss Marple. 

Phidias Peralta has left London in nebulous circumstances and repaired to the coast – between quaint Deadhurst and down-at-heel Deadman’s Beach – to relaunch his private investigator business. His first case looks straightforward enough: a ninety-year-old woman who vanished suddenly a year before. Her family are looking for ‘closure’. Uh-oh; not in a novel like this. Is the CCTV footage all it seems? Have the police given up too readily? Did she wander into the ‘grey area’ of the Dead Level marshes? The trail is cold by now. And meanwhile, two sinister-looking men from London have been seen around, asking for him… 

Phidias himself is a terrific character, a born-to-it detective whose eye for detail enriches the descriptions of the locality and whose over-the-top diction and intellectuality bring to mind a Doctor Who or a Holmes. He can’t bear to use the first-person singular in his narrations (though, disappointingly, he speaks and writes email with it), giving them the feel of a parodic scientific report. His assistant Lucy fulfils the more human, Watson-ish role, with a conventional voice anchored in ordinary family concerns. A third format consists of dialogue presented without speech-tags or other primary narrative, as if taped; this kind of stylistic spotlighting felt odd at first, but I did quickly get used to it. It helps that the prose is as adept and fluent as you’d expect. (The only poor writing in the book, I’d say, is on the blurb, which drastically undersells its contents.)

Storywise, some scenes ‒ an early-morning trip with the local trawlermen, an extraordinary model railway ‒ earn their place thematically (or from their intrinsic interest) rather than in terms of direct function. Nonetheless the tension builds up nicely and the late-night industrial park (where homeless Phidias is sleeping) becomes suitably spooky. In fact, at one point, I worried that the book was going to use that genre-twist cop-out where the ‘explanation’ for the crime is a supernatural one. Or that the epistemological riffs were preparing to camouflage some dodgy plot-moves. But the weirdnesses stay more or less under control and the denouement is, instead, revealingly bitter in the manner of, say, Leonardo Sciascia’s novels. I hope Phidias isn’t dead, though: I found myself, like any good crime reader, wanting another in the series, where more of his enigmatic background might get revealed, and the enjoyable partnership between him, Lucy and her bright and comic son can confront a new impossible brain-twister.

Guy Russell 18th November 2020

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