The One That May Represent Some Sort of Platonic Ideal:
Officially, this is an extract too, but the first time I read it was as a standalone piece, so I’m going with that.
I used to think Hemingway’s ‘Canary for One’ was my favourite short story: the way it describes a train journey – initially along the French Mediterranean coast – via the landscapes flashing by outside the window, the way it talks about relationship ending without really talking about the relationship at all…
Then I read this, which starts by travelling the same geographical territory, but heading East rather than West, and also talks about/ doesn’t talk about a relationship ending, and is more perfect, more right, word for word, than anything has a right to be.
I won’t go on about how great Joanna Walsh is because you already know – you, of all people – and also because I’m not qualified to do so, and I detest theorising talk, but if I had to come up with some sort of example of how I wish I could write then it would look a lot like this.
(Available to read on Granta.com. Officially part of Break.up, Serpent’s Tail, 2018)
John Berger has written that ‘Of all nineteenth-century buildings, the mainline railway station was the one in which the ancient sense of destiny was most fully re-inserted . . . in a railway station the impersonal and the intimate coexist. Destinies are played out.’ (I think Walter Benjamin has something to say about stations, too, but I can’t find the reference now – why did Benjamin have to write so bloody much? – and anyhow I’m sure you probably know it better than I do.) Here, Walsh plays with the entirely reasonable idea of taking up residence in a railway station.
In Worlds From The Word’s End, And Other Stories, 2017
I came across Joanna Walsh’s stories for the first time only a few months ago. They’re experimental, not ‘easy’ and on a first reading I found many of them sterile, lacking the emotion which I crave in a story. But what I discovered was that they went on to snag at my mind in a disquieting ways until undercurrents of emotion rose to the surface. In ‘Two’, the narrator has “two polished and uncomplaining companions”. One holds the other by the hand. Though clearly inanimate, they play a very important part in the narrator’s life, though not in a straightforward or comfortable way. In this as in another story I might have chosen from this collection, Travelling Light, love co-exists with anxiety. So it is in life. For me reading (and writing) stories is a way of making sense of a world which, let’s face it, is nigh-on incomprehensible these days to many of us.
(In Worlds from the Word’s End, published by And Other Stories, 2017)