Thursday, January 10, 2008

Love and Other Possibilities

Love and Other Possibilities by Lewis Davies is a cosmopolitan collection of short stories, varied in tone but consistently high in quality. Written in a wonderfully elegant and unhurried prose style Davies demonstrates throughout a percipient eye for detail - not just in the visual sense but on the emotional plane too.

Cultural difference is a recurring theme in this book. Opening story Mr Roopratna's Chocolate (which won the Rhys Davies short story award) is set in rural Sri Lanka. A vacationing artist attempts to connect with the chocolate-loving native who tends the garden of his holiday bungalow. The gardener's Sisyphusian task of sweeping away the fallen leaves proves to be an apt metaphor as death, it seems, is always at hand in that beautiful but precarious corner of the world.

The cultural divide is more starkly drawn in Feeding the House Crows where the narrator has to deal with a begging sadhu who won't take no for an answer. When his luggage is later stolen on a train you wonder if sparing the sadhu a few rupees might have averted his nightmarish situation.

In The Stars Above the City a gay Welsh tourist is left with a slapped face after his cynical sexual advances are misinterpreted as sincere affection by the arab boy whom he has just seduced. Here the depiction of Tangiers and other Moroccan locales is an absolute delight.

Not all of Lewis's stories unfold in exotic locations though - just as much interest can be found in the domestic arena. The Fare set in urban Cardiff has a Pakistani driver traversing the city while he frets over the health of his sick son. In This Time of Year a Welsh carpenter attempts to balance his home life with the overtly masculine sphere of his working world. And in the disturbing To the Centre of the Volcano a man has to take on the responsibility of caring for his young son after his partner is killed in Spain.

As well as tales that work on an emotional level there are more intellectually playful stories on offer too. A fellow obsesses over a faded film star in the McEwan-esque An Immediate Man. Once again the protagonists don't quite connect leaving a pervading sense of unfulfilled desire. In Dave Tillers fantasy and reality are blurred as the identity of a soap opera actor becomes increasingly enmeshed with the character he plays. And in Doris and Ethanol on City Road a forensic examination of a corpse is an effective way of dissecting a woman's past life and character. Here, as in much of this collection, death casts a long shadow.

The excellent Love and Other Possibilities by Lewis Davies is published by Parthian and is on sale... soon.