Nina Allan, one of my favourite contemporary novelists, is also a brilliant writer of short fiction. The recently published ‘Four Abstracts’ is a follow-up of sorts to the novella A Thread of Truth, focusing on the life of a reclusive artist suffering from an illness that may or may not have turned her into a spider. Her friend, the narrator, is archiving her work and preparing to present it to the public – the ‘Four Abstracts’ of the title become the framing device with which to explore the life of this solitary woman.
Like M John Harrison, Nina Allan is a master of a kind of banal British weird fiction that I find completely compelling. ‘Four Abstracts’ is a very human and downbeat story set in rural West Devon, full of references to the Arachne myth and other stories of women becoming spiders, like the Japanese Jorōgumo, but essentially a story of the hurts and difficulties life can throw at a person.
First published in New Fears, ed. Mark Morris, Titan Books, 2017
I began this anthology with a writer who was (and remains) particularly important to me; I’m ending with another. I had heard great things about Nina Allan’s fiction from the corner of the SF/fantasy community that I followed. After I read ‘Flying in the Face of God’, I understood why.
In the story, we meet Rachel Alvin, who is about to undergo a process that will alter her physiology such that she will be able to travel through space – but it will also transform her psychologically. Rachel’s close friend Anita Schleif is making a film about her – but it seems to be at least as much an attempt to hold on to Rachel as it is an actual piece of documentary-making. Furthermore, Anita’s grandmother is suffering from dementia, so essentially Anita is seeing the two most important people in her life disappear, albeit in different ways. Allan is concerned with exploring how her characters respond to the prospect and reality of profound personal change.
I’ve continued to follow Allan’s work, both fiction and reviews, and again hers has become a key voice in shaping how I think about fiction.
(Read and first published in Interzone #227, Mar-Apr 2010. Available in the collection Microcosmos, NewCon Press, 2013)