There was no way I could do this without including something from the great Heidi James, one of my very favourite writers. It was a toss-up between this and her slipstream short ‘The Mesmerist’s Daughter’, published by Neon Books, which has all the depth and complexity of a novel within the confines of a chapbook, but this one came out on top. It’s about a woman in a stale relationship, dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death. As the story progresses, her mother’s life is revealed as the contents of her flat – replete with all its stains and smells – are enumerated, a place where “feelings were always best expressed with objects.”
One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to her writing is that she shares a pre-occupation with some of the main themes of much of my own fiction and poetry – time, memory, the distortive symbiosis between the two, the mutability of personality. She spells it out explicitly here in a passage which is as close to summing up her oeuvre as you can get.
Philip says she must exorcise the past, with its daily intrusions into the present. So intrusive she sometimes forgets where she is, who she is, which self. What an odd route to take through life, forwards, back, never entirely just still, in the present. She must work through the past in order to move forwards.
Time is fluid in her work – past and present are interchangeable, they co-exist and are often experienced simultaneously; the past is always present in her work. As ever, the prose is peerless. She writes like a surgeon – probing, meticulous, forensic; she never wastes a word and makes every single one count, each sentence implying far more than what’s actually been said. There are always densely stacked layers of meaning in her work, so it stands repeated reading – there’s a piercing intelligence underlying everything that becomes more and more apparent as you read deeper between the lines. The voice is one of ice-cold detachment in a sense, but always with a blistering rage bubbling away between the surface (as in the final line of this story), which is all the more powerful for the fact that you know she could let it boil over at any point but chooses not to; this unbelievable level of control – not just of the words on the page but the emotions underpinning them – is something else I find hugely appealing about her work. By far and away one of the most talented and interesting British writers around.
First published online at 3:AM Magazine, 10th July 2020, and available to read here)