I am an avid birdwatcher and a member of the RSPB, and am fascinated by extinct species, so the great auk is a bird that has long held my attention. I even wrote a story about it myself, ‘Spearbird’, in my collection Hollow Shores. A flightless relative of the puffin, razorbill and guillemot, the great auk was hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century and remains a potent symbol of the destruction and wasteful exploitation we inflict on the world. Jessie Greengrass’s sombre story from the collection of the same name is a melancholy, methodical look at the decline of the bird from one of the men who hunted it. Until one year, it is no more. The island on which the birds nested, once covered in filth many feet deep, is now bare, “the colour of pewter and all the shit is washed clean by the rain”.
Collected in An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It, John Murray, 2015
“My parents were grocers.” Ten down, two to go. So many wonderful writers, so many wonderful stories, I now realize, that are not going to make the cut. Such as it is. But consider this, and while we’re on the subject of regret: Jessie Greengrass’s last story in her first collection, about a woman (I think) recalling her parents, and paying their old haunt (singular) a visit. Am I going to cling to Jessie’s coattails, too, as well as M. John’s? Yes, I think I am. Ms Greengrass was once a member of a small outfit called the Brautigan Book Club, as was I. It was fun, you might say, hearing people enthuse about Richard Brautigan. But here we are, and Jesse is a superb short writer and I’m . . . OK. Never mind.
From An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, JM Originals, 2015
This story has something of Lispector in it — a playfulness and a willingness to move between question, conjecture, statement and back again. There’s much of contemporary life in here — cat videos, cheese slices, sad lamps — but these recognisable phenomena arise in an uncanny, not-quite-as-we-know-them way. I think this story has something to say about attention and the magic of looking at things till they’re strange. For that reason, I find myself going back to it, time and again.
First published in An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw it, London: John Murray, 2015.