I don't really go much on short stories. I get involved and don't want them to end, or they don't really engage me in the first place so that I finish them before I've become interested in the characters. So it was with some misgivings that I picked up Essential Kit by Linda Leatherbarrow (The Maia Press, London 2004). This slim volume contains twelve short stories, each surprising in its fresh, surreal take on the world.
The first story, "Ride" describes a young woman's hair-raising journey on a London - Glasgow coach in which the driver, Matty - on his first ever long distance drive - is aready drunk,and rowdy, and fights break out. The young girl recording these events breathes it all in, alive with the excitement of her first ever adventure away from home.
Gorilla" is a wacky, surreal homage to Guy the Gorilla who once lived in London Zoo, Guy, who recounts the story, experiences London in the Swinging Sixties along with his friend drug dealer Garry who sells dope in the bushes outside Guy's cage. Of an evening, Garry exchanges dope for the keys to Guy's cage and the two friends step out to sample the nightlife together. This mad story is further stirred by the writer's blithe disregard for full stops and commas. Although her English is exquisitly written she has sudden mad bursts of fantasy in which her sentences go on and on, leaving one both gasping for breath and exhilarated.
As I read the book I felt a sense of the Ms Leatherbarrow's Englishness, her love of the countryside and of objects which assume importance in the stories. I felt that this is a book about the unusual; the lost soul on the margins of society, the long-distance walker, the loner, on the outside looking in, hoping to belong. . I found the book funny, moving, beautifully written and wholly engaging. It is a must for all short-story lovers as well as for those who, like me, don't really like short-stories.