We’re living in a golden age of the short story: stellar collections abound, making it increasingly difficult for emerging writers to establish themselves as names that demand to be read. But, with her debut book Dark Neighbourhood, Vanessa Onwuemezi has managed exactly that. By turns inventive, poetic, energetic, uncomfortable and uncompromising, these stories mark the arrival of a singular talent.
The title story, in particular, crackles like a firework. It’s a beautifully rendered tale of two friends trying to make their way through a gate that separates one side of the world from the other. Written in visceral prose, with shades of everything from Riddley Walker to Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall, the story manages to be both otherworldly and a perfect allegory for our fractured times. None of the other stories in the collection quite match the standard set by this opener, but there are plenty of highlights, including the excellent double-whammy of The Growing State and the luminous, desperately sad Bright Places.
Not every story here is a home run – Cuba is good rather than great, and Heartbreak At The Super 8 should have perhaps been cut altogether, but the swaggering assurance of Onwuemezi’s voice makes this book unmissable.
Dark Neighbourhood, Vanessa Onwuemezi (Fitzcarraldo)
Price: £10.99. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES