Like much of Walsh’s Vertigo, this story lays out bare units of the quotidian under our noses, bringing taken-for-granted things into question by positioning them baldly outside of a “normal” narrative. This time it’s the mothers of young children who are under the Walsh heat-lamp. ”Our children gave birth to our function”, state the young mothers, their identities subsumed as soon as their child is born. They’re infantilised through the clothes they’re expected to wear and the round-edged objects they handle all day. And, at last, here’s a mention of the way young women so often become “X’s mum” – not only at nursery-gates introductions, but also in those deliberately-non-threatening online handles women feel obliged to use. Seeing Walsh record this so directly and plainly is such a relief, like a thirst has been quenched.
From the collection Vertigo, And Other Stories, 2016
What would happen if we stopped using words? Walsh’s story charts the breakdown of language and relationships, working through what happens when words are no longer enough and through writing opens up new possibility for articulation outside of language. It is of course delightfully playful in its language, so that people are “dead to the word” and the failing economy places a picture at “five thousand, ten thousand words, a million!” The old writing adage is to show not tell, but in telling us the state of things, Walsh brings language and character to the forefront to create a new word-less world out of her words.
First Published in Best European Fiction, 2015. Collected in The Best British Short Stories 2015, Salt, 2015 and World’s from the Word’s End, And Other Stories, 2017
Your bookself is a being who thrives on all the unread books that you pile up in corners, everything you’ve neglected, not got round to yet, or discarded. The narrator tells us, “It has been through the charity bag. It has scraped every word from torn and mouldering volumes streaked with tea and bacon fat at the bottom of the dustbin.” I have so many unread books. I keep buying more. This story makes me feel better about it. It also makes me think people’s bookselves should get together at parties and events and readings to talk about books and all our unbookselves could stay at home and read.
First published in Narrative, 2014.Collected in Worlds from the Word’s End, And Other Stories, 2017
There are some things you still can’t get on the internet.
In Joanna Walsh’s short story, a writer in residence at a theological college is searching in vain for a copy of Zoo, or, Letters Not About Love by Viktor Shklovsky, which had been recommended to her by her agent’s husband on the day before she took up the residency. She is meant to be writing a novel about emails to an ex, but, ‘I do not write about my ex’s emails. I write about not being able to read Shklovsky’s Zoo.’ Joanna Walsh’s recent collection, Worlds at the Word’s End was my favourite short story collection of last year, but in 2015 I was privileged to publish ‘Shklovsky’s Zoo’ on Piece of Paper Press, in a limited, numbered edition of 150 copies. Half the print run was given away during a launch event at the bookartbookshop on Pitfield Street, London. Joanna and I divvied up the rest, and sent them out gratis to people we thought might like it. I have a numbered copy and Joanna has one. Apart from that there aren’t any left. ‘Shklovsky’s Zoo’ is now essentially unobtainable, and as far as I know Joanna has resisted at least one offer of further publication. So, a story that largely comprises speculation about a book that cannot be read, cannot now itself be read. I think ‘Shklovsky’s Zoo’ is a literary and conceptual masterpiece, but you may have to take my word for it.
First published Piece of Paper Press, 2014
Literally every sentence of ‘And After’ – one after the other – ends in an unexpected place, subverting the expectations of the reader as it unfurls. As such, you might think that the story risks overstaying its welcome; that it doesn’t come close is a testament to both Walsh’s technical excellence and her feel for the shape and balance of each construction, and how they fit together.
First published in Vertigo, And Other Stories, 2016
‘Drowning’ is redolent with those earlier depictions of motherhood in the seventies where women took to testifying to their experience, and in so doing to making the personal political. So, when I first read ‘Drowning’, I was already there, in motherhood as abysmal, as oblivion, motherhood as death of self, say… In Lynda Schor’s 1979 ‘My Death’ it’s not the sea but the bathtub in which the mother drowns herself, and then in her case she was dead already:
‘Listen Ruth, I’m dead. Could you pick up the kids for me and keep them a while till Dave picks them up?’
‘I’m dead too. I was going to call you and ask whether you could pick up Rosalee?’
Somewhere between ironic and deadly serious, Schor charts an afternoon as a mother, dead, but obliged to carry on with her chores. “The baby sucked greedily, unaware of my condition.” Her husband suggests she think of something more positive, chiding her, “You always complain.” The story casts an acerbic gaze on parenthood, one typical of the era, but not without resonance today.
‘Drowning’ was first published in Vertigo, And Other Stories, 2016. ‘My Death’ is anthologised in Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood, ed. Moyra Davey, 2001)
This story rests on an irresistible premise that all your unread books might step from your shelves in the shape of a polyphonous reader to share with you some conversation and a glass of wine. This flesh and blood creation opens up the question of who we would be if we actually read all these carefully hoarded books. It is Reader as pure potential and permanent aspiration.
Included in Worlds From the Word’s End, And Other Stories, 2017