Published by Wrecking Ball Press
Whatever expectations you have of a book with Helen Mort’s name on the front, when you pick this up, you can forget them – with the exception of expecting good writing. A book of short stories, with a broken-glass-disused-garage late-night drinking feel. The book has a sense of being a novel. It isn’t. It isn’t a unitary thing in that way. There is an emotional or experiential coherence across the tales but not a unity. There is an undercurrent that takes in bitterness but also black humour, really black humour. As if this is the script for an unfilmed episode of Black Mirror; Charlie Booker’s occasional forays into dystopian future horror.
Exire is, or appears to be, an on-line agency or ‘dating site’ except instead of finding you a date for the night, it hooks you up with someone willing to kill you. Some of the stories revisit characters, or at least signal that they do this by the repetition of the story/episode titles, each of which is someone’s name: for example, there are 6 Lornas, against 2 Gerrys, while Maureen gets a solitary page.
The book is elusive, sly and unnerving. All good qualities. It floats oddly around the streets of Leeds and even stops off briefly in my local pub. Which adds, for me at least, some surface and misleading familiarity.
It’s also about picking a scab, there’s a sense of something unsettled, something not to be left alone and an underlying violence that can manifest suddenly. I recommend it wholeheartedly and I think you’ll need to read it 2 or 3 times. It doesn’t invite you in. You knock, the door opens and you can enter if you like but you can just as easily stay outside for all the book cares. When you do go in, and you will, you’ll find an empty kitchen table, a bare light bulb hanging over it and an opened bottle of vodka sitting next to a recently drained glass.
After my first read through of Exire, I closed the book, picked up a pen and wrote the following spontaneous reaction piece:
It keeps kicking me/
In the pit of my stomach/
Again and again and I ask/
It to do it again and I stay/
Up in the skull dark alone/
After midnight house/
And the effort not to cry/
Is almost beyond me this/
Infatuation of words