Beyond Eclectic by Jonathan Hill

I enjoyed reading this collection of short stories by Jonathan Hill. I’m familiar with his writing having read and reviewed his earlier collection of short stories (Eclectic: Ten Very Different Tales) and his two “Maureen” novellas. (Maureen goes to Venice and A Letter for Maureen.)

The author has already demonstrated that he has a talent for writing short stories: he has a remarkable ability to focus on small details which come together to create a disproportionately larger picture; his writing is economical and every word meticulously weighed for the contribution it will make to the whole; his acute observations of human nature and behaviour make his writing vivid and real; a dry sense of humour is revealed with subtlety; difficult issues are dealt with sensitively. The writing style in Beyond Eclectic lives up to the high standards already demonstrated by Mr Hill and confirms my opinion that he is a really good writer of short stories.

This new collection moves into new territory and explores some of the darker sides of life and I think that most of the stories work really well.

First of all The Robin; I thought this was one of the best stories. We’ve already met George in the earlier collection but now time has moved on and he is a widower living alone with only his memories and his garden for company. The story is poignant but not remotely sentimental and the writer has demonstrated wonderful empathy for his character. I thought this story was beautifully written with simplicity, clarity and attention to small details that evoked the past and prepared the reader for George’s future.

Mr Owen is one of those teachers we’ve probably all encountered: really nice, strong in subject knowledge, useless as a teacher. His life in the classroom is a misery and you can see which way One Unread Message is going quite early on; and then at the end the surprise intervention of a character from the earlier collection causes Mr Owen to re-assess the situation and the reader to re-think their views of Mr Owen.

The Night Visitor starts the collection and a macabre plot evolves which leads to a very satisfying conclusion. On first reading I didn’t really like this story; I didn’t think it worked. As I began writing these comments I couldn’t think why I had that memory so I read it again. Second time round I was much more impressed; I particularly liked the way the author hinted at the reality of the relationship between Claire and Ian and drip fed the involvement of Trevor. If I say any more it will spoil the story so…….

There are three very dark stories featuring children in this collection. The Lollipop Man is a rather sinister take on the “imaginary friend” idea with elements of a horror story which leaves you feeling uneasy about where reality ends and the other world begins. The Box in the Wardrobe also features an “imaginary friend” and although a rather sad tale it also has an unsettling blurring of the real world and the other world. In Mary’s Paintings, Mary is the daughter in a macabre tale of jealousy and resentment. When her mother gets involved in a new relationship, Mary is none too pleased but what happens next is not what you expect.

An Eye for an Eye was the only story in the collection that I didn’t really enjoy. There are two parallel stories that come together in a spectacular manner which works well enough but I didn’t engage with the characters so wasn’t really very bothered about what happened to them in the end.

Unlike Joyce and Dennis who I thought were a-maz-ing. They live very humdrum lives Behind Closed Doors and the twist in the tale at the end is unexpected and very, very funny. The descriptions of how they live together are exaggerated for comic effect but work so well; a really excellent short story.

“Barry was just your average window cleaner,” is how The Secrets of Primrose Avenue begins. Oh really? I’ve noticed there seems to be more and more people offering window cleaning services but had just put it down to the recession. Now I know different and shall be very wary when Gary my window cleaner calls round next month; a very funny short story.

If you’ve never encountered the ubiquitous Maureen you’re very lucky. In this story she is at a book signing for her favourite author and she is at her brilliant worst.  Another great Maureen story with a most unexpected ending.

I follow Maureen on Twitter and I’d better make my meaning clear: if you haven’t encountered Maureen you’re very lucky because you’ve not only got this story and her visit to the Art Exhibition in the previous collection to look forward to but also the two novellas about her as well. O.K. Maureen? No offense meant!

Sometimes amusing even laugh aloud funny, sometimes macabre and sinister, sometimes poignant and sad: another great collection of short stories from Jonathan Hill which you can download at the Amazon Kindle Store and get more details on his Amazon author page.