Wednesday 29 October 2014

Book review time - "Numbskulls" by Mark Kilner

Numbskulls. © 2014 Mark KilnerKilner's latest collection picks up nicely where Let's Kill Love left off, in that many of the stories herein deal with similar themes: alienation, isolation and just how messed up life in 21st Century Britain has become. Except I think Numbskulls trumps even the excellence of the previous collection. There's a lot going on here, both in terms of style and content. Rightly or wrongly, it feels like Kilner has grown more confident in his writing, and is even more willing (and he was never reluctant) to try new ideas out for size.

There's humour here ("You Are Boris Johnson" will hit the mark for all those old enough to remember those "choose your own adventure" books of our youth, whilst "Beardface" and "And Now For Something Strangely Familiar" are also highly effective comic pieces), controversy (the Ballardian "Funeral of Princess Diana Considered as a Grand Prix Motor Race" might not be to everyone's taste but is deftly handled), a bit of social commentary ("Killed to Death" and "Rutting Season" are both very good on contemporary celebrity) and outright surrealism ("All The Young Bowies"). As with Let's Kill Love, Kilner also includes a longer story - "Passion" is surprisingly thought-provoking with regard to art, religion, the tabloid press... and a couple called Hugh and Liz.

Best of all though is the story in two parts that bookends the collection, "Single to Kepler-186f" and "Hello Cruel World". These stories epitomise Kilner's style, his preferred subject matter, his dark humour, his inventiveness and his originality. In these tales, our hero, disenchanted with the modern world and deprived of the romantic escape he hopes against hope for, volunteers to journey into deep space to colonise a distant, uninhabited world. But as you might expect from Kilner, things don't quite turn out as expected...

I won't go through all twenty stories here, but I will say this: Numbskulls is a whip-smart collection, with recurrent themes entwined throughout. Working through it, this reader found himself having lightbulb moments on multiple occasions as stories referred back, obliquely, to earlier tales in the book. To borrow a maths analogy, it's like Kilner has shown his working out as he's gone along, which leaves the reader feeling very satisfied on reaching the solution. The quality of the writing alone warrants a five-star review, but that feeling of satisfaction the reader gets, delivered subtly but so, so cleverly, makes this my book of the year. You can, and should, buy it here.

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