“These stories hover just an inch above terra firma” – Hollow Shores by Gary Budden

‘He walks with no other human in sight. What a luxury to be alone on this packed island. … On foot, the world becomes a bigger place. … Like stepping into the background somehow, text tumbling over the margin and off the page, wading into the painting, whatever; it’s that feeling of being elsewhere that is so compelling.’

The upturn is just around the corner. In a future near you, our leaders will lead; pull us all up in their slipstream. And we’ll become engaged, civic-minded – stakeholders in tomorrow. We will live in well-planned towns, visit sponsored green spaces, and schools will equip the next generation to fuel a world-beating economy. From fund manager to lollipop lady, we’ll all play our part. The few that fall between the cracks will be blessed on primetime by Oprah, and there won’t be any more ‘Swampy’s because environmentalism will be corporate. Or not…

Gary Budden’s debut collection, Hollow Shores, is about the ritual and lore of a pagan land which, despite centuries of occupation by the State, still evades the yoke of das kapital. It’s also about the yearning to be far from the madding crowd, and re-connecting with oneself through the natural world. In these loosely coupled stories on the edge between fiction and non-fiction, Budden creates a mood, a pall, under which recurring themes echo ever louder – principally, of feeling unanchored in the world.

Momentum is built through characters who are cleverly weaved in and out of the collection – dropped then picked up at different points in their lives. And compelling as Budden’s characters are in one shade, seeing them in different colours, unexpectedly, intensifies their impact. The man seeking an untamed space, and splendid isolation therein, except from the precious few amongst whom he can truly disarm. A young woman maturing, and the dissolving of once-cherished friendships as new priorities take over. Communities – not those engineered by politicians, mythologised by the Press or sponsored by Nike – but hidden, grassroots communities such as the punk scene, and those living along Britain’s canal network, on barges. And through the unexpected revisiting of characters (changed as they are by time and circumstance), the whole becomes far greater than a sum of parts. The mood, that pall which Budden builds from the very first page, gets deeper and darker.

Hollow Shores is, in part, an exploration of Britain’s counter-cultures – those swimming against the tide. It’s forged in time and place and as much about memories bound up in steel and concrete, as those evoked by earth, water and sky. And with its white foxes of legend and obscure figures in black, these stories hover just an inch above terra firma.

There’s an idea at the heart of Hollow Shore, almost unsaid – that as more of our lives are monetised, we become ever more tightly harnessed. And the tighter that (unseen) harness, the less space there is for alternate lives – in particular, those that don’t further competitive advantage. And the stories within this collection spin a kaleidoscope of satellite themes – of modern society’s flotsam and jetsam; of being washed up and stranded, out of moves on rebooting one’s life. The psychic harm of city life and, concomitantly, the redemptive power of nature.

Any Cop?: Hollow Shores is irregular; oblique. And quite beautiful in its ‘restlessness’.

 

Tamim Sadikali

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