Saturday, 7 January 2012
One Man's Opinion: HILDA'S BIG DAY OUT (A SHORT STORY) by ALLAN GUTHRIE
I had some pleasing news yesterday that came completely out of the blue. I became the winner of the Vintage Books Reviewers Competition. That's a lovely to thing and I'm really pleased to hear that my efforts are appreciated. The result is I was able to choose 6 books from the Vintage list; so much for getting on top of the To-Be-Read pile.
Now to today's attempt.
Those who know me will be very much aware of the great respect and admiration I have for Allan Guthrie, for his writing and for his humanity. I'll not say more. What I need to add is that Hilda's Big Day Out may not seem immediately to be something all Guthrie or Crime-book fans should have, but it most definitely is.
You get four stories in this collection - the main attraction and three bonus tracks.
First off comes Hilda's Big Day Out.
This was first published in The Sunday Mail, no less.
It opens with the peculiarities of a New Year's Day dip, something all the more apt for me as I was one of the lunatics who plunged into the North Sea this year.
We meet Hilda. If you've read Guthrie before, it'll be like a reunion with an old friend and if you haven't you should get to be better acquainted.
This time Hilda has his own voice. He's the story-teller and he has a great story to tell. As his owner rests on the beach, Hilda is kidnapped by a man who thinks he needs a three-legged dog.
Using the dog as the main voice must have been challenging, but Guthrie surpasses himself in the description he uses from the perspective of our three-legged friend.
The lighter opening tones darken for a while and by the end of the tale, the result is utterly satisfying.
The next story, Your Mother Should Know, is a piece that Chris Rhatigan and I were honoured to include in our Pulp Ink anthology last year. It's full of atmosphere, a kind of humidity to my mind, as it tells the tale of a young girl whose life is tricky and for whom their aren't many solutions. What I love about this one is that it's set in the States and shows the amazing versatility of voice of the author, one of which I'd love to see him expand in the near future. Early Sissy Spacek comes to mind for this one.
Next is Bye Bye Baby, the sperm and egg that came to form the very successful novella. It's a story that keeps up the power of the opening salvo.
Finally we come to 'Call Me I'm Dying'. It's from 'A Hell Of A Woman: An Anthology Of Female Noir' (edited by Megan Abott and Val McDermid no less). It brings the collection to a nicely-rounded finish as another canine gets a brief mention. What you get is a head-to-head between an extremely unusual man and his guest as they celebrate their tenth anniversary over dinner. This one's electric. Full of power. By the time the metaphorical explosive package was revealed, the story already had me hooked. Sparse, sharp and a brilliant example of what can be done when all the flab is cut from a narrative.
It's a great collection all round and a testament to the genius of the man at the helm.
Better still, if you go now it's free.
A quick addition, by the way, a must-have collection of Anthony Neil Smith's short stories entitled 'Early Crap'. And it's totally free for 5 days!!! How irresistible is that?