Not a Girl: Short Tales for Dark Days by Christopher Donaldson. Book review

Not a Girl: Short Tales for Dark Days by Christopher Donaldson, Matador, £8.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

This is a collection of fourteen mainly likeable, readable stories described as disturbing tales on a variety of disconcerting themes, many of which will be familiar to the average fantasy reader. Some are good but some less so, but that is the subjective nature of collections. The style and presentation is reminiscent of the late Keith Roberts whose `Grain Kings’ and `Chalk Giants’ were once staples of the fantasy genre. The observation of the human condition is keen and often put forward in an exciting style. The reader’s emotions are directly challenged, causing disquiet, sorrow and even anger. It is only a book!

`The Wake of the Banshee’ is a tale of a post-Apocalyptic world created by missiles, destruction and creeping death. If you are old enough to remember `Alas Babylon’ by Pat Frank then this is similar. The narrator is a fisherman in a back-water not that much affected by the end of life as we know it, until the murderous rogues arrive on a converted torpedo boat dubbed the `Sixer’ after the three numbers painted on its side. They loot and kill until the narrator devises the means to destroy them. The price is high but his reasoning infallible. A good story!

`Not a Girl’ is a very short, tragic tale of the unfortunate aftermath of a murder and suicide. The sense of total loss is graphically expressed.

`All of Them’ is a bizarre narrative told by a man capable of wishing people away if he doesn’t like them. He has no ideas as to where they go other than away from him. His destructive boredom and arbitrary annoyance does for everybody in the end. There’s a moral here somewhere!

`Eight’ is a truly spooky story of a serial killer known as the `Interstate Knifeman’. His method of gratification is the hunting and killing of children. This is always a disturbing theme that must be confronted. Of course the knifeman is encouraged by voices. In his case these come from aliens amusing themselves with the seemingly random slaughter of the innocent. A bit like King Herod!

`The Archer of Broken Pine Tor’ is a deliciously strong tale of natural, yet harsh justice. A child conceived from an act of rape grows up despised. He is then conscripted to serve in a long war. He learns to kill from a distance, like a sniper, but in his case with a bow and arrow. He is good in his work as both a soldier and an assassin. He also despises rapists which leads to an exciting conclusion.

`The Scent of Elsewhere’ is how the Wild Hunt catches and kills renegade faeries. The setting in a country inn in 1643 is an odd place and time to run a faerie to ground, but it is a tale of stalking and violent murder. A quite disconcerting narrative.

`Echo Valley’ is a troubled tale of a widower who has moved to the countryside but finds it haunted. He thinks there is a strange echo in the valley only to discover he is both haunted and haunting.

`Baby Please Don’t Go’ is an essay on love, on being selfish and trying to understand a relationship. It scarcely qualifies as a story, or does it?

`Dead Celebrity’ tells us all about a middle-aged, married man becoming fascinated by and then obsessed with a young female singer of bubble-gum pop music. His devotion rapidly evolves into worship which he is unable to obscure from his wife and son. Ancient stereotypes are drawn on and paraded about as part of a not unexpected and unpleasant denouement. A well narrated tale.

`Etiquette’ advises us that soup and oysters are inappropriate as food for a first date: one is messy, the other is noisy. Then the conversation continues to question whether broth is a soup or a stew. To be honest this question has always bothered this reviewer, but sadly it goes unresolved in this story as we are suddenly and unexpectedly introduced to an ancient Sumerian demon who completes the tale in a quite tedious manner. There are those who will enjoy this story but it is not purist to remark that here Donaldson is extracting the urine. Amusing idea, neatly drawn, but it’s a cop out, dear boy.

`Shy’ is an appreciation of the fairer sex, but is it written by a stalker or an assassin?

`The Air Race’ has a touch of H G Wells about it. It is a tale of frustrated presumption played out before an air race. Here custom is outraged by individual liberty as an innocent young woman, who is infatuated by the handsome airmen, is violently punished by a naïve young man who feels jilted. A complex tale of human expectations.

`The Blue’ takes us to an old peoples’ home where an old, pioneer flier is watching the Moon launch on 16th July 1969. He remembers having seen it on the same day in 1928. This isn’t a strong story but it leaves you with a roseate glow.

`Albion’s Shore’ is how the son of a book-keeper defies his father’s wish to become a sailor, in that life as a mariner allowed him the possibility of hearing a mermaid sing. Not the reality, but the possibility. Nice touch!

As a collection of short stories on bizarre themes this book has quality but one is left asking as to what purpose does it fulfil other than a worthy exposition of the writer’s apparent skills. Some of the stories are excellent but others seem too clever by half. This collection would have benefitted greatly from an editorial spike. Let me put it this way, if you borrowed this from the library it would represent very good value.