The Book of Unwritten Rules is a collection of short stories from a group of 14 people who met while studying on a Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing Course. It’s an admirable little project, and one that is a testament to the bond writers can make when they get together and discuss their work with a bunch of like-minded people. Some of the writers, like Kate Hamer of The Girl in the Red Coat fame, have gone on to do some pretty big things. And here they are in this little collection, showing that they haven’t forgotten those who helped to give them a leg up.
While there is a lot to be admired in the way this collection came to be there are also, inevitably, some issues that exist because of it. It’s a pretty disjointed set of stories, skipping as it does from the silly and the whimsical to the dark and the disturbing. Other than the writers knowing each other, there’s little that holds the tales together. And, at times, there are huge discrepancies in the quality of the contributions. Some feel like unfinished novel extracts, others as if they were knocked out in a few minutes. But then, most importantly, a few feel like well-crafted works of fiction that would deserve a place in the majority of such anthologies. So let’s focus on those.
Julie Nuernberg’s ‘Ugly’ is certainly one of them. A disturbing analogy for the beauty and celebrity obsessed society we live in today, the story sees the mother of a new born delve to new depths in the quest to make her child as attractive as she believes herself to be. It’s a truly chilling little tale. Equally as disturbing (and entertaining) is the story of a stalker/peeping tom who becomes unhealthily obsessed with a young girl in Stephen Jones’s ‘Pearl’. Lisa Berry’s ‘Little Judas’ is also a powerful piece of work. Telling the story of an unravelling marriage and its immediate aftermath, Berry masterfully presents the events from the perspective of a young girl who doesn’t yet understand all the implications. And, in perhaps the highlight of the collection, Emily Simpson tells us how to ‘Get to Know Your Husband in Five Easy Steps’. This isn’t the self-help style story it sounds like it might be though. Instead, it’s an adroit investigation of modern jealousy and insecurity that will leave you feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
Any Cop?: For the moments when it hits its heights, this collection is worth a read. The quality of the other stories may be a little mixed, but there are some that will appeal to other people’s tastes more than they did to mine. For me, The Book of Unwritten Rules worked best when it showed its dark side. When it did that, it was pretty brilliant. But unfortunately that didn’t happen as often as I would’ve liked.