“A remarkable book” – Between Tongues by Paul McQuade

IMG_18Aug2021at231909Confingo have published the first short story collection  by Paul McQuade, Between Tongues. It follows on from their Joy Division inspired We Were Strangers, a short story collection by various hands, and Nicholas Royle’s London Gothic last year.

Confingo have a reputation for taking risks, high production values, in house editing, and the quality of their output. Pulp fiction this is not. Paul McQuade is more than worthy to join their authors that is starting to read like a roster of cutting edge short story writers, Gaffney, Litt, Royle, Williams to name but four. If you played 4-2-4 what an attack that would be.

The collection starts with an amazing story, ‘A Gift of Tongues’.  It might be its own genre, the mundane macabre, a tributary of slipstream. Amongst the ordinary details of a relationship a tongue is removed. With a new tongue come new words from new languages and an old tongue can be stored in the fridge!

The story  has several levels of meaning that are as slippery as the tongue.  This Babelian narrative is gripping, thoughtful, and clever, running a fine line between the absurd and the ordinary. I wouldn’t be surprised if the story is much anthologised in the future. It has appeared in Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Publishing) and Best of British Short Stories 2019 (Salt) already. Here is just a sample of the wonderful prose that is as finely tuned as a Nabokov paragraph:

“I notice a taste. Slightly salty, like cured bacon, with a faint hint of bergamot. Tea-smoked meat. I use the new tongue to explore further; the hinges butterfly and pull at their fleshy moorings. The taste comes from all over. A taste my old tongue had forgotten. The taste of my own mouth.”

Was a tongue ever more alive?

The other stories have a variety of settings, almost a tour of the post-colonial world. If McQuade is a master of the fantastical, he is also a master of realism. In ‘The Inheritance’, he explores a family’s changing attitudes through time to property, values, and wealth. In ‘This Impossible Flesh’, we are back in a surgical world like that of the tongue, themes of sacrifice, family, and endurance prevail.

Any Cop?: For a first collection this is a remarkable book. Paul McQuade isn’t one for the future, but one for now. If I have one request can Confingo produce posters of their covers the interstellar tongue splatter on the front is as amazing as the stories within? Thank you, Zoe McLean and the Confingoists.

Richard Clegg

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