Short Stories by Gavin Salisbury

Illustrations by Marcia Borell

Reviewed by Steven Pirie

The first story from Foreign Parts is a surreal tale entitled The Red Face and the Blue Face, in which Ryan, 'anonymous' and 'normal', has encounters with strange faces that appear upon the walls of his flat.

It's an enjoyable tale for its imaginative premise, but I have to say that having crafted an excellent opportunity to explore Ryan's mind--let's face it, these apparitions are the perfect voyeur's foil, and, assuming they're not real, Ryan's mind is definitely worth exploring--the author seems to make a dash for the ending. The result is a strong beginning, a strong ending, but no middle, and so the story suffers from a lack of substance.

Story two is The Way Home. This is a superb tale, the strongest in the book, I felt. Neda's encounter with a soldier returning from the war generates a tale of love and loss that is itself dreamlike and ethereal. Neda must choose--to hold on to her lover or to do the 'right thing' and release him back to his home and his own love waiting there for him--all the classic ingredients that make a fine tale. What does she choose? Hah, buy the chapbook to find out!

The Journey is the third story. A strange and unusual tale, of a great many unanswered questions and some decidedly dodgy logic, yet a story that 'works' none the less.

Copil, along with his family, who, in accordance with the customs of his race he kills along the way, are journeying upon a raft in a tunnel--why, and from whence, and indeed to where, is not explicitly told. Emerging from the tunnel into sunlight, Copil finds himself in a world such as Earth. The fact that he adapts so quickly to this new, alien environment, considering he has apparently lived all his life in the tunnel, is the source of much of the dodgy logic. While I may applaud the author for taking on such a scenario in a short story, it means Copil needs devices in order to operate (he is given a kind of oracle, for example, so he can name trees and fields and other non-tunnely concepts, and which feels like it is there more for our benefit as the reader rather than Copil's as a character. It doesn't really add up--I mean why, if Copil's forefathers are thoughtful enough to provide such a guide to the Promised Land, has Copil not been taught all he needs to know during the long tunnel journey?). Copil stumbles upon a woman and her mother, apparently of his own race, and for a while it would seem a happy ending will ensue. But there's a final twist of fate, and while this ending might be considered somewhat bleak, it's clear Copil has grown enough on his journey that there's hope, that he is now ready to 'go his own way'.

This is what I took from the tale--that it's a coming of age story told in a very unusual way--with symbolism of tunnels and birth, of the separation from parents, of adaptation and growth, and the final realisation of maturity in the face of extreme adversity. And this is why the story, despite my qualms about its logic, works for me.

The last tale is The Target. J is a Hunter, an assassin, at large in a world in which such hunters 'preserve the balance of society', with most kills usually by 'socio-economic type' or 'simply random'.

Told this at the opening, I was happy to accept it at face value, but I grew uneasy as to why society would allow for such presumably indiscriminate killers, and why the denizens of said society seem to live normal lives, frequenting café-bars and all night parties when they're on the loose. Me? I'd probably not venture out from under the stairs. J meets B, a female Hunter, and it becomes clear B knows J's current target personally. I was looking for raw emotion, here, particularly as the crux of the story is J's eventual choice to feel more 'alive' and rejoin the human race, but I have to say the coldness of both B and J was strictly in character. There follows a pursuit into B's domain, where J learns secrets that will undoubtedly change his life for ever.

The fact that J attempts to gain control of his own redemption saves the tale from what is perhaps an ambiguous beginning, and I certainly felt the ending was satisfying in this respect, so what more can I ask?

Overall, I think Gavin Salisbury tells a fine tale. The writing is crisp and interesting, and each tale, despite the potential flaws I may have indicated above, was enjoyable in its own right, particularly during that all important 'first read' in which I attempted to dislodge my critical, writerly hat and enjoy the words from a reader's only point of view. I would certainly look to read more from this author in the future. And if you're a fan of slightly ambiguous but never-the-less hugely imaginative tales, I would certainly recommend adding this work to your collection.

A word about the artwork: I'm lucky enough to have seen the 'colour plate edition', and I have to say the artwork is stunning. My guess is it will transfer equally well into black and white. Marcia Borell is clearly an artist of considerable talent.

Foreign Parts, A4, 36pp, £1.00 incl p&p

For details of how to purchase, visit the Bookshop here.

Return to Whispers review archive