‘Julia K’ by May-Lan Tan

The dark sexy glitter of May-Lan Tan’s writing blew me away when I first read this debut collection. Like Angela Carter, she’s excellent on atmospheric surface detail and, by that, I don’t mean she’s shallow; surface detail is what grounds a story. It was hard to choose my favourite from this collection as they work as a whole, but ‘Julia K’, about a mysterious alluring woman who lives upstairs from the narrator, is full of Tan’s characteristic hard-edged, occasionally hallucinatory imagery: “Kissing Julia was like kissing language. Her tongue was a flame, licking phoneme and diphthong. She swallowed me like a sword and her eyes were doves, her mouth a lake of fire.”

(from Things To Make and Break, CB Editions, 2014)

‘101’ by May-Lan Tan

I probably could have chosen any of the stories from this extraordinary collection. (For instance, I could happily have chosen ‘Julia K.’ simply on the basis of that one line — you know the one: ‘Language, as she deployed it, was neither a line cast nor a bullet fired. It was a catholic mechanism: the sharp twist of a pilot biscuit into the waifish body of Christ’). As it is, I choose this. I choose it because of the near total brilliance of its execution. The way, the more you read it, the more everything seems to slot into place, not neatly and tidily, but raggedly and bloodily; from the palindromic title — those two ones with nothing in between — to the playful, cutesy doubling, too self-consciously cool to be taken seriously, until it slowly resolves into something that cannot, by any measure, be taken lightly. Oh, and did I mention the language? Hell on earth, the language.

In Things to Make and Break (CB Editions, 2014)

‘DD/MM/YY’ by May-Lan Tan

From the patently mind-blowing, world-consuming collection Things to Make and Break, ‘DD/MM/YY’ is a story of doubles and disguises. There are twins, replays and could-have-beens, like a hot, high and heavy kind of Plato’s cave. Amid the sex and the drugs, there’s humour and a lot of real human feeling. The writing is luminous and the simplest turn can break your heart: ‘When I was little, I could always feel the promise of it, like a tooth. A germ that would develop into something no-one in the world has ever seen before. It’s not there anymore.’

First published in Things to Make and Break, London: CB Editions, 2014