‘Barcelona’ by Philip Langeskov

The current directors of UEA’s MA in Creative Writing (the Prose Fiction strand) are two alumni of the programme: Naomi Wood, author of The Godless Boys and Mrs Hemingway, and Philip Langeskov, who’s so absurdly talented it’s almost scandalous that he hasn’t got around to publishing more than he has. I’ve been haunted by this long short story ever since it was published by Daunt as a standalone single, the cover as enticing as a bar of posh chocolate. Here Daniel and Isla return to the city where they celebrated their honeymoon ten years previously, but at seemingly every turn the sunny ease of their holiday is stalked by complication, mishap, anxiety, foreboding. In its ominousness it’s reminiscent of McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers; in its nonchalance, of Geoff Dyer’s Jeff In Venice.For 50-odd pages it is the best of company, however unsettling. Then something extraordinary happens, both in the story and in the means of its telling. Some fiction will make you weep; some may make you laugh out loud. But it’s rare that a story will make you punch the air, as I did at the end of ‘Barcelona’, both on first reading, and now, as I come back to it.

Published as a single short story by Daunt, 2013, and collected in Best British Short Stories 2013, Salt.

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