I was watching Heston Blumenthal on the TV the other night – he was waxing lyrical about an Icelandic fish called the wolf fish that he thinks may come to replace the dwindling cod in the hearts and minds of the nation’s fish lovers – and Heston Blumenthal being Heston Blumenthal he couldn’t just serve up the fish in a form that most people would instinctively recognise as being that of a fish. Oh no. Heston Blumenthal took the wolf fish and turned it into candy floss. The wolf fish candy floss appeared in the same feast as a piece of salmon that had been remodelled to resemble one of Mr Kipling’s French Fancies and a poor poor crab which he transformed into a cup of tea. Each of these tiny wonders elicited coos and gasps of awe and sentiments along the lines of ‘how does he do the things that he does?’ from the select group of celebrities invited along to sample his wares (celebrities who were then invited to ingest laughing gas from canisters rolled in by waiters dressed up like Captain Bird’s Eye). It was while watching said programme that I was reminded of flash fiction grandmaster David Gaffney whose latest collection, The Half Life of Songs, fell through my letter box just the other week.
Gaffney’s world is also chock a block with odd juxtapositions: whether it’s cross dressing barbers (whose customers ask for a ‘four denier on the sides and a fun-fur open crotch on the top’), jailbreakers with a curious interest ‘in the noises a building made’ or tramps able to wield shiny metal beetles against anyone who gives them gip, just about all you can reasonably expect from a David Gaffney short-short is, to coin a cliché, the unexpected. Clocking in at over twice the size of his previous collections Sawn-off Tales and Aromabingo, The Half Life of Songs feels like the book Gaffney’s growing legion of fans have been waiting for. Whereas in the past you might have wished for his stories to stick around a little longer, for his books to not pass quit as quickly as they did, finally, with The Half Life of Songs you have a book you can relax into. Almost five dozen stories fill the two hundred or so pages of The Half Life of Songs and, believe you me, they run the gamut: from the ‘sad funny fables’ that Nicholas Clee writes in praise of on the back cover, through to the ‘hilariously demented and wonderfully succinct… McNuggets of pure gold’ that Graham Rawles so favours.
In point of fact, reviewing The Half Life of Songs is a little tricky because, with so many stories, each of which are cram-packed with twists and turns and chuckles and oddities and mayhem, the last thing you really want to do is unpack them. It wouldn’t be half as much fun if you picked up the book and found yourself going, ‘Oh, that’s the one Bookmunch spoiled.’ So all I will say is…
Any Cop?: David Gaffney could well be the king of flash fiction writing right now. If you’ve ever dabbled with Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn or J Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand, I’d recommend you make a royal bee-line for Gaffney right about now.