‘The Folk Singer’ by Ben Myers

It goes without saying that Ben Myers is a hugely gifted writer, but I don’t think people always recognise how versatile he is. He’s associated with the sort of rural noir/gothic that he mastered in his first three novels, but as this collection shows, he can turn his hand to more or less anything. Yes, there are dark tales of travellers and farmers and the like, but there’s also the Beckettian tragi-comic duologue of ‘Snorri and Frosti’, and this one, which is my favourite in the set. In it, an ageing folk singer is interviewed by a music journalist – who’s a big fan of her work – in a café in London. “For a fleeting moment the writer experiences that feeling of being faced with someone so utterly familiar and yet completely unknown; an intimate stranger,” is how he so tantalisingly describes the journalist watching the singer walk down the street and into the building. What I love about this story is the way he fits so many layers into the dialogue – there’s something of the film noir about it in the way questions are answered with questions and every exchange has a subtext that goes way deeper than the words alone suggest. Not only this, but it’s clear that both characters are aware of it and appear to enjoy the game, playful and teasing in the way they interact, but always with a jagged edge. His years as a music journalist give this a real authenticity too (“everyone knows that interviews start when they’re no longer ‘interviews’” as the singer says), which only adds to the overall effect.

First published as a Galley Beggar Single, 2014, and collected in Male Tears, Bloomsbury 2021

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