The pandemic seems to have turned half of Britain’s best-known comedians towards literature, and after Osman, Boyle et al we now have a debut collection, Because I Don’t Know What You Mean And What You Don’t, from the woefully underexposed Josie Long.
The combination of parenthood and the pandemic haunts many of these stories. The strangeness of lockdown Britain is depicted with biting accuracy in “We Decided to Leave London” – both capturing the coded unpleasantness of a neighbourhood group chatting online and the quiet desperation of a person for fresh air and solitude. Similarly haunted by the pandemic is “Poets Rise”, a Black Mirror-esque tale of surveillance and loneliness. The lack of autonomy for the narrator in stories such as the Kafkaesque “Just An Informal Chat” and the quietly heart-breaking “Grandad” is another recurring theme.
The Raymond Carver-like title of the collection gives us a sense of the key problem that many of these characters face, one of communication. There is a hint of Carver’s eye for the telling detail in many of these stories, particularly the opener “A Good Day” in which a group of troubled teenage girls try to convince themselves they are witches. The narrators of these stories are mostly women trying to find out things about themselves and their place in the world, within their close relationships especially. Long’s stories are beautifully observed, bittersweet, funny and wise.
Because I Don’t Know What You Mean And What You Don’t, Josie Long (Canongate)
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words PAUL JENKINS
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