As well as being longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2012, Funderland has been garnering lots of interest and good press. Here are some recent reviews for Nigel Jarrett's debut short story collection, and all positive...
Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday:
'Nigel Jarrett's stories take seemingly ordinary or innocent situations and gently tease out their emotional complexity. Both "Funderland" and "A Point of Dishonour" confound expectations superbly.'
'In the former, a couple who are not a couple negotiate a weekend away and their suppressed feelings for one another, while in the latter, a woman challenges the notion that her great-grandfather, shot for desertion during the First World War, should be seen as a hero. Jarrett likes the hidden tensions in family situations: caused by the strange stepfather in "Watching the Birdie", for example. He's not afraid of unusual perspectives and his bravery is well rewarded in this unusual and sensitive collection.'
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian:
'Anyone nervous about the safety of fairground rides should steer clear of this collection's title story, in which the survivor of a big dipper collapse recalls the experience in slow-motion detail: "The accompaniment of splintering wood – he would always remember that sound – watching the dripping water as it flies off in the breeze like a necklace ripped from someone's throat." Occasionally the language can seem a little over-refined: does it really help to visualise a cub scout by noting the "green tabs sticking out below his knees like gold leaf raised by static electricity"? But, as a music critic by profession, Jarrett has a marvellous ear. A shepherd's whistle is analysed as "B flat, then a glissando to the double octave, capped by a staccato triplet on D sharp". And the stand-out story, "Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan", is an enigmatic study of a Japanese woman's displacement in rural Wales. Her confusion is encapsulated by a performance of Madama Butterfly in Cardiff: "torturing herself with ridiculous, old-fashioned feelings while western music splashed everywhere like breakers on a strange but exciting shore"'
See the full review on The Guardian
Herbert Williams, The Sons of Camus Writers International Journal:
'This is an attractive collection of short stories by a writer who is a master of the form. They are varied in setting but alike in their subtlety of expression and unpredictability of outcome. It is a book of intimations, suggestions rather than statements. It allows one to interpret as one wishes, and as such is a model of engagement brtween author and reader.'
'The characters are vividly drawn and their situations explored with ingenuity and a rare narrative gift, seen to perfection in the prize-winning story "Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan". Mrs Kuroda, born to a survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bomb blast in 1945, comes to Wales with her husband, an executive with a Japanese firm in the Valleys. They live in a large country house provided by the firm, work hard at absorbing the local culture, but encounter unexpected problems - in her case, her feelings for one of her husband's employees.'
'In contrast, "A Point of Dishonour", a first-person narrative, tells how a supposed act of cowardice in the 1914-18 war induces a great-grand-daughter of the soldier concerned to confront an author with fresh facts on the case. The contrast between the author's emotional indifference to the affair and the descendant's engagement is imaginatively constructed.'
'Nigel Jarrett brings to these tales a verbal dexterity - hosuemartins 'flicker below the eaves like the ignition of a tiny straw fire' - that makes this a work of continual surprises. A book to savour and enjoy.'
Mary Uzzell Edwards, Cambria:
'These sixteen short stories take your breath away. Sometimes from suspense, as the patchwork of characters watch and wait for events to unfold, problems to be resolved, friendships and relationships to flower or fall apart, as in the title story. It has an eggshell quality, this tale, two people moving towards each other tentatively, horror turning to hope. Other times it is with shock - Mrs Kuroda, her tiny feet on the edge of Penyfan. My heart went out to her.'
'In 'Watching the Birdie' there's a growing sense of anxiety, a holding of breath which, when exhaled, is not in relief. Lives are not neat in these stories, so neither are the endings. If in fact they are endings - some of the stories are like smippets from a cutting-room floor.'
'People are watching, as in 'Nomad', often through windows, the glass plain or stained. (The more frightening stories have no windows at all.) And people are being watched with a certain envy - the piano teacher, the Hungarian poet. The lives of those for whom they wait seem distanced or veiled, 'as if intimacy would invite trouble'. And there are mysteries: Who is 'R'? Why is the gender of 'I' unresolved until the end?'
'Some of these stories leave you wanting more, as if they were a first chapter, which is clever but annoying, as life is. The fluency and rhythm have choppiness, as life has. My instructions would be, 'Read slowly. Don't allow to boil. Keep stirring gently. Allow to stand'. I didn't resent the re-reading I felt they needed, the prising apart of character and sense. It was so well worth it. It's a wonderful collection.'
Mary-Ann Constantine, Planet magazine (issue 205), February 2012:
'Funderland, Nigel Jarrett's superb short story collection, demands the tribute of slow and careful reading [...] Explaining what Jarrett does with language is a bit like trying to map gossamer with a chunky felt-tip, but these are mostly stories about families, about people's relationships with and understanding of each other - classic short story territory. They are however so finely attuned to the shades and possibilities of meaning in the words people exchange as to make your own perceptions of human behaviour seem hopelessly superficial.[...] The revelation of these stories is the vast and subtle and inarticulate web that links and separates us all. Read them slowly, more than once, and learn.'
Barnes & Noble, Booksellers:
'Plunging below the surface to confront the strange, the shocking, and often the unspeakable, this debut short story collection interrogates themes of violence, longing, and helplessness. Beautifully written as well as explosive, these stories feature characters who must cope with the darker side of human relationships, frequently from inside the seemingly cozy world of the 21st-century family.'
'The title story of this collection is not for anyone who is nervous at the fairground. 'Funderland' sees Dale recalling a roller coaster accident with devastating clarity. He remembers how the car 'became wedged, somehow pinned by gravity into a corner from where he could see Johnny and Rose plummeting like rag dolls to their deaths.' It's a striking opening to a sensitive and revealing collection. In 'A Point of Dishonour' the narrator visits a writer, Kramer, who has written a book about soldiers that were court-martialled and shot in the Great War. The narrator's grandfather features in the book and she brings with her a newspaper clipping that shows her grandfather in a new and disturbing light. It is a subtle story in which what isn't said is important. Kramer hands the newspaper clipping back and becomes kurt, '...as if I had deliberately tried to embarrass him, and he twice looked at his watch without saying anything about soon having to attend to something else.' In 'Ornithology' depression is linked to the disappearance of birds as a woman misses their 'madness in the air.' Jarrett's writing is varied and musical.'
Maria Williams, South Wales Argus:
''Nigel Jarrett's debut collection of short stories is a lyrical exploration of tragedy, loss, longing and the horror which lies beneath the surface of seemingly normal family life.
'Funderland, the story after which the collection is titled, examines how the survivors of an horrific fairground tragedy are clinging on to one another through the pain and guilt of terrible loss; its setting in the no-man's-land of a cottage between the country and the sea straddles both worlds and physically reflects the no-man's-land of of the relationship between a bereaved husband and his bereaved sister-in-law.
'Nomad deals sensitively with how parents of grown-up children become 'favourable strangers' to their wandering son, while the sexual trouble brewing between mother and father is palpable in Unfinished Symphony.
'Hotel de La Paix examines the world of a young waiter on the cusp of discovering his homosexuality, and then there is the seductive world of Dr Fritz, the musicologist whose mind is increasingly rejecting the banality of modern life by comparison with the vivid memories of his musical travels in Africa, only anchored to reality by small acts of petty torture against his neighbour. And in Watching The Birdie, we are well outside the comfort zone, with its ominous portent of sexual abuse against a young girl by her new stepfather.
'My favourite story, Mrs Kuroda on Penyfan, rightly won the Rhys Davies Prize for short fiction, with its evocation of the controlled world of a Japanese business wife. She comes to Wales and finds love with a local man and the story portrays the hopelessness of having to give that up as her husband's factory sheds jobs.
'The collection is an elegant and poetic read, and Jarrett's creation of characters and use of their voices is masterful.'
Liam Nolan, www.gwales.com:
Mrs Kuroda is a Japanese housewife who has made the Welsh Valleys her home, now living in the shadow of Pantmoel instead of Mount Fuji. Peter is a letter-writing pathologist who is preparing to cut open the Prime Minister while reminiscing about former lovers. Dr Fritz, meanwhile, is a musicologist whose days of discovering tribes in the Congo have been replaced with days drinking badly stewed tea in rural Wales. Funderland, Nigel Jarrett’s début collection of short stories, introduces us to this unlikely trio and plenty more.
Jarrett, a journalist, critic and award-winning writer, has a real skill with the short story; it’s a form that he clearly understands intuitively. Characters like Mrs Kuroda and Dr Fritz are at the heart of each piece, with every character being far more clearly depicted than the length of prose should feasibly allow. Jarrett shows the ability to distil the emotions and scope of a novel into each story and his characterisation of this motley crew of people is central to this. Each has a very real back story and a set of emotions that mean the punch each story packs is great.
Good short stories, like those in Funderland, don’t let a limited word count limit anything else. The title story of the collection is a great example of this. It is a piece of prose in which next to nothing happens, but a history is painted and a future is implied; eleven pages have the impact of a work much grander and the longing, sadness and hope one feels are disproportionate to the time taken to read it.
There are times in the book, however, where this is arguably Jarrett’s weakness. The snapshots of a life we see in ‘Uncle Kaiser’ are glimpses of a story that would arguably work better as a longer piece. Similarly, ‘Nomad’ could be expanded and would make a fantastic novel. Yet it’s hardly fair to criticise a writer simply for leaving you wanting more, which is surely the hallmark of a master craftsman?
If you’re a fan of the short story, Funderland is a collection that really shows what the form is capable of. Jarrett’s collection is a fantastic mix of dry humour, emotion, tension and the faintly bizarre. I eagerly await more and, dare I say it, a novel.
Gareth Ludkin, Buzz Magazine:
'Although it took me a couple of attempts to really dive into Funderland, Nigel Jarrett's alert collection of short stories proves an intricate and compelling read. Rewarded with vivid tales of intense human emotion, violence, remembrance and sense of place, Nigel Jarrett's imagination is matched by his vivid descriptive talents. As a writer and journalist based in Chepstow, there's also a strong Welsh resonance running through many of Funderland's tales – particularly in 'Mrs Kuroda On Penyfan'. A strong debut collection.'
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Read an interview with Nigel Jarrett on The Raconteur website.