I don’t often do book reviews on here, but this one had such
an impact on me that I wanted to write something about it.
A strong sense of place, mixed with the dreamlike, a good
dash of realism and more than a touch of the surreal work together to create a
magical whole in the new short story
collection by Maggie Harris, In Margate
by Lunchtime, just published by Cultured Llama - www.culturedllama.co.uk.
Born and brought up in Guyana in the Caribbean, Maggie
arrived in the UK when she was 18.This collection is set entirely on the Isle of Thanet, where she settled, married, raised her own family and developed
her career as a poet, story writer and tutor.
She gives us a series of colourful images of the towns of
Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs, from some unusual points of view. Sometimes
the stories are firmly rooted in a time past, sometimes they are magical or
whimsical – but they are always poetic and always take you under the skin of
the characters of this place before you realise quite where you are, or how you
got there (it could have been on a Vespa driven by a mermaid!).
At the beginning there is a conversation with a parakeet.
“We are the ones chosen to light up these drab skies of yours, provide a flash
of effervescence,” it says. Yes, that’s what this writer does, she brings light
to the animation of the place, the vibrancy of all its levels, from the arrival
of the flamingos, to Benjamin Zephaniah, to Turner and TS Eliot. Towards the
end we have some words from The Wasteland:
“I can connect/Nothing with nothing.”
But straightaway the narrative is decisive and tells us: “I think not.”
Many connections are made in this book, between the characters
in the various narratives and the reader. In a direct statement toward the end
of the collection, the narrative tells us to “think of this as a pointillist
painting, these impressions of ordinary lives in a corner of England…” They are
all connected and intertwined and they have an impact beyond that created by a group
of impressions. It’s a hallmark of a great story collection that the individual
stories stand alone, and stand out, yet the whole taken together has a depth of
meaning that is greater than the sum of the parts.
This book had me turning pages, eager for the next story,
the next chapter, the next new character, much as an exciting novel would. It
creates images, feelings for a place and for people in a way that only the
poetic imagination can.
Maggie has won awards for her stories before – she won the
Guyana prize for Literature in 2000, and was the Caribbean winner of the 2014
Commonwealth Short Story prize. This collection should be an award winner. I would
expect to see it on some prize list in the next year or so.
This poem was written a while ago, about the feeling of moving into my new house after a few years of bad stuff and negative energy. I am posting it again, because it's four years today, and I still feel the same!