‘A very striking looking book ‘ – Still edited by Roelof Bakker

srbWhen this book arrived I was really looking forward to delving in. The idea of it really appealed to me. How many buildings are standing empty in the country? We walk past them every day and never pass any notice of the emptiness surrounding them. Roelof Bakker came to the idea for this collection from his photographic and film exhibition called Still. Roelof Bakker compiled a photographic exhibition using an abandoned building in North London, the Hornsey Town Hall. He also used the Town Hall as the venue for the exhibition. Although Hornsey Town Hall is a heritage listed building it hasn’t been used since the 1980s. After the exhibition Roelof Bakker took the idea from his photographic work and put it to writers around the world. Twenty-six writers chose a photograph and used it to inspire a new piece of writing. The end result of this very long process is Still an anthology of short stories which was published by Negative Press London.

The collection includes a wide variety of writers. The geographic range of writers goes from a Kurdish-Canadian, to a Londoner from Karachi and includes a Lancastrian, and many more in-between. It is really interesting to see how even though all the writers used photographs from the same location in North London there is a number of stories based in far flung countries. One such story is “Odd Job”, by Preeta Samarasan. This is a story about two girls who while waiting for their exam results take up a summer job, of house cleaners. The story moves along at a steady pace and keeps the reader intrigued. You are left wondering if the girls are making up stories about the imagined lives of people within the houses, or whether they could be true. The writer even incorporates the idea of a building left to crumble, abandoned like Hornsey Town Hall. In its stinging conclusion the story returns to the present day, of the narrator, but you are left to wonder again about the realities of the previous owners.

Another photograph within the collection provides a small glimpse of the outside world through an obstructed window. This is the inspiration to the story, “The Tree at the Limit”, by Aamer Hussein. This tells the story of a woman, Marya Mahmud, who moves around the globe over a lengthy lifetime. While this sounds like it should be a rather confused and lengthy story the writer, Aamer Hussein manages to write a complex story over time by using an art exhibit as the anchor point. The protagonist is a woman who is admired for her diverse painting career. However this story is never delivered in her voice. Everything we know about the story of her life is given to the reader through her daughter’s and son’s recollections of their lives and information provided by the Exhibition Catalogue. It should be somewhat jarring to move through so many speakers but Aamer Hussein deftly stitches the story together. This story in particular should appeal to people who battle, due to circumstances, with maintaining roots. I found this story to be a slow burner but it has stayed with me over time and I keep returning to it.

Whereas “From the Archive” by James Miller provided a story which when I read it first I thought I would return to as I had enjoyed it so much. But as of yet I haven’t re-read this story. James Miller has written a story set in an unknown time in the future. The “story teller” is an academic who appears to be writing a paper about the life of our time observed from what I assume to be an anthropological study. It is quite amusing to read what could conceivably be how people in the far future could interpret how our current society. Fragments of information being studied from various aspects of our society and how they could become confused. The academic interpretation of something as fundamental, to some people, as religion is can seen from the extract below:

“In the Judeo-Christian religion – a declining but still significant value system during this period – three represents the Godhead: the Father (God himself); the Holy Ghost (the Word or essence of God) and the Son (The corporeal embodiment of God).”

The examination of the significance of three continues using similar models which we would find familiar (even if we didn’t agree with the reasoning). But then we get to one of the more outlandish theories of our society:

“In the Jedi religion threes are replicated in various forms, particularly with ‘Yoda’ the wise green man, ‘Darth Vader’ the dark King and his chosen son ‘Luke Skywalker.’ Each figure represents a different manifestation of authority, truth and power.”

This story is well constructed and even provides a very informative bibliography-like appendix. Even though it is written in the style of an academic research paper it is entertaining and kept me engaged, with novel usages of many aspects of our everyday lives.

Overall I did find this anthology well developed. Some stories have straight forward styles while others are more playful or experimental. Some stories I enjoyed, others I really didn’t take to, or maybe I didn’t understand what they were trying to portray. One such story would be “Corridor by Evie Wyld.

I think as a reader it is not necessary to read it in the order that it has been assembled. In fact I think it would be more enjoyable if this collection is used to dip in and out of over the course of time. The initial appearance is rather beautiful and I found the chosen photographs quite thought provoking. Before reading any stories I did study each picture and try and come up with a story, needless to say I was out classed by all the writers.

Any Cop?: This is a very striking looking book and well produced. Unfortunately for me this collection didn’t fully deliver on what I expected from it.

Margaret M. O’ Toole

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