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Displaying 1 - 30 of 236 reviews
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
February 27, 2018
When I decided to read the shortlist for the Republic of Consciousness prize, this was the book I was most looking forward to, partly because it was mentioned in a few of the papers' best of the year lists at the end of last year. It did not disappoint me at all - Eley Williams is clearly a talented writer, and this playful, quirky collection is a pleasure to read.

In general, I find short story collections very difficult to review - I don't like the story by story dissection as a form, and I often struggle to identify themes. This time what struck me most was her love of words, her sense of humour, and her juxtaposition of ideas, coupled with a knowledge of the limitations of language - many of the stories are addressed to a departed lover. She also delights in exploring words in a way that reminded me of Ali Smith, who is one of my favourite writers.

A fine collection which I can't do justice to - so read it yourself! I look forward to seeing where she goes next.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,249 followers
March 14, 2017
I had pre-ordered Attrib. and other stories, and I read the first story one insomniac late night, as soon as I received it. I could hardly believe it was real; I thought it might have been a dream. I read it again the next day.

Attrib. is like that. It's so unlike what I was expecting. I'm so used to debut short story collections by women being deadpan and wilfully horrible, full of impassive descriptions of sex and depression. That's not to say I haven't loved some books fitting that description. But Attrib. just feels so fresh: there's a real sense of joy here, a palpable pleasure in the beauty of language and what it can do. Tiny moments spiral outwards in looping, sinuous language. Characters feel malleable, genderless, waiting to be shaped by the reader.

I can't help comparing Williams' voice(s) with Ali Smith's. I'm aware this is because my frame of reference for this kind of experimental-but-readable, free-flowing writing is small, but there you go: Smith is what I was reminded of. A little bit of Virginia Woolf, too.

Attrib. is a book I could have read in a single afternoon, but I held off, wanting more mental space to process and explore the language, and a chance to reflect on each individual story. It's a true original.

Favourite stories:

'The Alphabet', the above-mentioned opening story – the narrator is affected by aphasia, and is losing words.

'Attrib.' – inanimate objects speak volumes to a Foley (sound-effect) artist.

'Smote (or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You In Front of a Print by Bridget Riley)' – the title says it all, but this simple scene is brought to life in electrifying style. This has such rhythm and flow to it, I read it as something somewhere between a song, a long rap verse and a performance of a poem.

'Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef' – the narrator's job involves (illegally) cooking ortolans, rare songbirds eaten (whole) as a delicacy after being drowned in brandy. The chef's partner has a certain, slowly doled-out reaction to this line of work, gradually causing them to question it.

'Mischief' – in a desert setting, the narrator looks for landmines, with the help of a trained rat. I think I can safely say this is the best rat-centric story I have ever read.

'Spines' – the most conventional narrative in the book, yet there's something incredibly hypnotic about it. A family (husband, wife and teenage son) holiday in a French cottage, and a hedgehog turns up in the swimming pool.

Favourite lines & passages:

One cannot spell eyes without having to also spell yes. This was always especially the case with you, and with yours. Incidentally, my dictionary is definitely getting smaller. This could be because I am moving away from it or because it is shrivelling. – 'The Alphabet'

I make a boiled sound because I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll and that I create characters and situations where I am brave for the same reasons some people love the stuffing of caught birds. – 'Alight at the Next'

Let's say a corsair moon would be doing scimitar practice above us and the stars would be like anvil sparks. – 'And Back Again'

I start to think that stealing looks at you while you sleep is like being in a kitchen and knowing where the knives are kept. – 'Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef'

There was an imbalance to the scene on the shoreline generally, as if a note was being sung off-key or somewhere a pair of parentheses had been left unclosed. – 'Bulk'

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Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,777 reviews1,263 followers
December 7, 2020
Winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize (for which I was a judge) and listed in the Guardian as my Book of the Year for 2017.

And now winner of the James Tait novel prize- Britain's longest running literary prize to go with its newest in the RoC.

This book is published by the UK small publisher Influx Press which “publish stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature.”

Eley Williams herself is one of the fiction editors of the literary webzine 3AM and a visiting lecturer and tutor (in Creative Writing and Children’s literature among other areas) at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Her research interests include experimental fiction, lexicography (i.e. compiling dictionaries) and onomasiology (a new term to me, Definition: the branch of linguistics that deals with concepts and the terms that represent them, in particular contrasting terms for similar concepts, as in a thesaurus).

It is clear that her interests have inspired her writing in this vibrant book of short stories, which features two definitions from Johnson’s dictionary as an epigraph (including one of “Attribute”) and then features copious word play, and explorations of language and of the meanings of words.

Another key theme of the book is the contrast between unspoken thoughts and spoken words; almost all of the stories are internal dialogues, often that cover a few moments while the protagonist thinks of something that has just happened or is about to occur.

Stories include:

Alphabet – about a lady suffering from Aphasia (Definition: inability or impaired ability to understand or produce speech, as a result of brain damage) and the subsequent deterioration of her relationship;

Swatch – a boy hiding in a cupboard at a party and who is obsessed with the colour of his and other’s eyes, colours he describes using shades he knows from his painter’s father’s work;

Attrib. - a Foley (Definition:of or pertaining to motion-picture sound effects produced manually) engineer hears everyday objects speaking to him as she goes about her work, trying to produce a sound effect for Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve" as she plays with a spare rib from a takeaway - all a reflection on as Eley Williams herself puts it Genesis and genesis;

Smote – a woman agonises in an art and word fuelled stream of consciousness over whether to kiss her partner as they view a painting together;

B's - the writer muses on the Birds and the Bees as her lover awakes;

Alight at the Next – the protagonist deciding whether they should invite their companion home, is delayed at their tube stop by a man getting off the train before they can alight;

Concision – about the ending of a phone call; And back Again – the protagonist fantasies about demonstrating their love by acting out the lyrics of “I’d do Anything”;

Fears and Confessions of An Ortolan Chef – a relationship breaks down as the chef describes the practice of preparing and eating Ortolan (Definition:a small Eurasian songbird that was formerly eaten as a delicacy, the male having an olive-green head and yellow throat );

Synasthete: Would like to Meet – a sufferer from an extreme form of Synasthesia (Definition:the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body) reflects on a date;

Bulk – a natural historian joins a crowd examining the carcass of a dead whale;

Platform – the protagonist looks back on a photo, literally the parting shot of a relationship, and notices a commuter’s toupee being blown into someone else’s face;

Spins – in which the protagonist muses on Spiders and related topics while reflecting on the last word they spoke as their partner stormed out after a row.

Overall a fascinating, enjoyable and hugely stimulating exploration.

As well as Williams' beautiful wordplay she has a fantastic turn of phrase: I loved Stendhal Syndroming at the thought of you by this painting and my lips anywhere near yours and all that I am you have made italic from Smote or the closing line of Bs all of this is a half-asleep thought of a euphemism of a metaphor of a ghost of the word for the sight of you opening any eye and saying "Good morning".

My preferred literary form has traditionally been the novel – and when I first started the book I found it the literary equivalent of fast food – each story seemed more like a brief experiment, not really carried through with any commitment or lasting satisfaction

However by the time I had finished I compared it in my mind more to a tasting menu (Definition:A style of restaurant dining in which guests receive a series of small, intricate dishes made using special techniques or with unusual ingredient).

I can only urge you to taste the intricate, special and unusual language in this book.

My thanks to Influx for a review copy.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,053 followers
September 27, 2018
This is a very nudge nudge wink wink kind of book. Very self-consciously clever and a little bit pleased with itself. It reminded me at times of someone who goes on the dancefloor to send up the whole concept of dancing, someone playing up to an audience of fellow scoffers. How amusing you find this depends largely on your mood. Dancing can look like a ridiculous pastime; on the other hand it can also exalt the human form to its quintessence. As can, in my view, traditional storytelling that deploys no experimental devices. And this is where the subjective comes into play. Though The Waves is probably my favourite novel of all time I'm not a great fan of experimental fiction. I'm very happy not everyone tried to write like Woolf. I enjoy my conventional novels as long as they're well written and make me experience to the full a new world.

Collections of short stories are harder to rate than novels. With every new story you go back to the drawing board. I didn't warm to the last story in this collection and it made me forget how much I did enjoy a couple of the others.

A recurring theme of the stories is the unloved woman, the woman who feels she deserves better (but, in Williams' case, who can laugh at herself). We've got plenty of historical precedents of women ill-treated by men or fate (not all of whom can laugh at themselves, it's true) - Dorothea in Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, Tess, Lily Briscoe, The Daughters of the Late Colonel, Eva Trout and Bridget Jones spring immediately to my mind. In other words it's a topic that has received a lot of airtime. I wasn't convinced Williams added anything new to the argument.

However, if you enjoy language punning and smiling at the absurdity of human relations you'll probably love these stories…
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,211 followers
December 3, 2018
Winner of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize for 'gorgeous prose and hardcore literary fiction' from small, independent presses.

The plot of this is not and will not be obvious.

Influx Press is another of the UK's small, independent presses, source of much of the really exciting development in literary fiction, their specific mission to publishing innovative and challenging fiction and creative non-fiction [...] stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature. And thanks to them for the ARC of this book.

'Attrib. and other stories' is Eley Williams debut collection, although some of the pieces have featured elsewhere notably in The White Review and 3:am magazine.

It is a beautiful collection, which stands out for its love of, and use of, language, itself often associated with the love of a (sometimes departed) partner.

In The Alphabet the narrator is suffering from progressive Aphasia (the world's yours for the mistaking she tells herself) and her partner has left her (never said, but given her partner's love for puns and language, the frustrations of the narrator's condition may have been a trigger). As she searches for her glasses she also searches for words, and explores her love of language:

I completely lost it (the plot - not the glasses, they're only mislaid) about two weeks ago around the same time as a mislaid you. If you were here you would make a filthy joke about my use of that word, about you being miss laid.
I have swept so many words under my tongue and out of the porches of my ear, out of sight and out of mind. Over the years your ears must have become spoked and fairly bristling with my Xs and Ks and Ts and teasing.
And she recalls how on their very first date, she was asked what was her favourite letter, although when she asks the reverse question she receives the reply:
'I consider favourite letters to be a better indicator of personality than star signs' you had said, and I had thought, oh great, this person's a massive weirdo and is going to try to inculcate me into a reiki-practising cheese-cloth wearing bewhiskered cult or sect, because I use words like inculcate without thinking twice even though I knew at the time that it was unadvised. Inadvised. But by God you were charming, said the other half of my brain. Cult leaders often are, replied the first half. GO ATROPHY ON A STALK, said the second half and it did, I think. Thank goodness. You had evaded my question, I couldn't help but notice.

A is a snapped Eiffel Tower. The shape of it. If you were interested in A as a letter I'd assume that you were only interested in half-finishing projects, you said.
Now, on her own she goes through her own mental alphabet, including:
The letter P is cuckoo-spit on the length of a chive, cooling in the dew dawn. Q is a monocle discarded. We always had time for eccentricity - we watched a battered VHS of My Fair Lady and drama whenever a word game presented itself. R is a thrown magnifying glass, embedded in a wall.
In "Synaesthete, Would Like To Meet", the narrator suffers from Neurological Synaesthesia. Wikipedia defines it as "a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway" but the story defines it more eloquently as:
Dawn's light through my curtain stinks, my cup of tea is an orchestra tuning up and the sound of birdsong outside my window tastes of rosewater and is scalding.
Pick up any paperback that uses too many mixed metaphors and that is my day-to-day, with all attempts at clarity squandered by confusing, muddled leaps of imagery.
"Alight at the Next" has the narrator attempting to leave a train with her partner, only to find a man committing one of the deadly sins of commuting, perhaps 2nd only to standing on the left, namely entering the carriage before passengers have alighted, and she finds herself, against her usual behaviour, confronting him:
and I make a boiled sound, because I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll, that I create characters and situations where I am brave for the same reasons some people love the stuffing of caught birds. Pigeons get caught on the carriages sometimes: I’ve seen it, Oyster in my pocket, spring in my steptoes. I forget, sometimes, what preclude and nascent mean. It has been a long day for everybody, even for pigeons, and it is forgetfulness that makes me brave to the sound of this gamelan of joists and hot-steamed-grit-zoom pulling into stations, braver than before, when the pre-you afternoon got jumbled with you-evening at rush hour, where throats squirmed with the old smoke and stream of tunnels: a world pinstriped by eyelashes, uproarious with the need for a Friday, downroarius with lost cards –

there are earphones trailing from this man’s neck and they squeak
with chords that have the obtuse delicacy of a dove retching –

the thought of you unscrews my head

and if you record the rip of glacier through ice and modulate its frequency it sounds of whale-song, and we often have cause to think of glaciers and their place and pace on the District Line –
"chords that have the obtuse delicacy of a dove retching" - what a wonderful image!

As one story comments: What’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone? These are sentences with which it is worth spending time alone.
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
178 reviews1,477 followers
October 4, 2020
Republic of Consciousness Prize Winner 2018

This debut is remarkable, not for its plot (there isn’t any), nor for its characters (they are mere shadows), but for its delicious, bewitching prose.

The 17 stories that make up this collection all chronicle those moments in life when time stands still – the silence after a telephonic breakup, the gnawing agony before a first kiss, the slumbering half-thoughts when waking up in bed next to a loved one – told mostly by nameless, genderless narrators with a unique relationship to language.

The opening story “Alphabet”, for example, is told from the perspective of a narrator suffering from aphasia (progressive loss of language) who is coming to terms with the end of a relationship:

"I have swept so many words under my tongue and out of the porches of my ear, out of sight and out of mind. Over the years your ears must have become spoked and fairly bristling with my Xs and Ks and Ts and teasing."

The story crackles with wordplay while painting a poignant picture of loneliness, loss and linguistic disorientation:

“Forgetting hairbrush became forgetting our address became forgetting dates became figmenting became fragmenting, became I remembered your beautiful, beautiful face but could not quite place it. My brain had unpinned you without me wanting it to and now you have gone. It is not your fault, or whatever the word is.”

Another story follows the dating journey of a character suffering from synesthesia (a condition of jumbled perceptions where one hears colours or tastes words, for example) who describes her world thus:

“The number 3 is orange for me while 10 smells of buttered bread, but add them together and – rather than a buttery, citric compaction of the two – seeing 13 provides the sensation of snakeskin drawn against my upper lip.”

Throughout the collection, Williams’ prose is cerebral and playful to equal degrees – sharp, sinuous, inventive – exalting in the richness and limitations of language.

My only caveat is that the dearth of characterization and context, compounded over time, creates an emotional disconnect to some of the stories – as if the author were more in love with her words than her characters. Still, a very worthwhile read if you’re a fan of writers like Ali Smith and Rachel Cusk, or in the market for some highly original, experimental fiction.

Mood: Wry, meditative, playful
Rating: 8/10

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Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews638 followers
December 18, 2017

Attrib. And Other Stories is published by Influx Press, one of the UK’s small, independent publishers. On it’s website, Influx Press says it’s mission is to "…publish stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature."

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that I wasn’t really interested in short stories and much preferred to read “proper” novels. However, this year I have read Pond, The Absent Therapist, Counternarratives, Light Box, Treats, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Anything Is Possible, Jesus' Son (at least my fifth reading and possibly my favourite book ever), Vertigo, Worlds from the Word's End, Darker With The Lights On, and now this. I am having to review my opinion. In the words of Melissa Harrison writing in the Financial Times in her review of this book: "Yet it's in the realm of short fiction that much of contemporary literature's most exciting and original work is being done, work that often shows the way for the rest of us - so thank goodness for independent publishers such as Influx Press who are committed to getting experimental writing seen beyond the often inward-looking world of literary magazines."

Attrib. And Other Stories is a collection for lovers of words. And for lovers of ideas. Most of the stories take place over a very limited time span with a very limited character list. One describes the ending of a phone call (Concision), another (one of my two personal favourites) a person getting on a train to leave another person (Platform), another (the other of my two personal favourites) a person trying to decide whether they can kiss their partner in a public art gallery (Smote).

There are zany ideas galore. And back again describes a person wanting to prove their love for their partner by going to Timbuktu, as in the song from Oliver, whilst also fulfilling all the other actions from the song.

And there is word play everywhere. From a letter-by-letter journey through the alphabet giving a playful description of each letter, to a synaesthete experiencing multiple senses with each thing that happens, it seems that each story allows Williams to play with words in a way that will delight Ali Smith fans everywhere. Like Smith, Williams is interested in the hidden meanings that arise when you play with words, explore different meanings for the same word, put words together that might not normally go together, use words as verbs. Smote ends when the worried narrator’s partner leans over and kisses them without any of the worry that has stopped the narrator doing the same and our narrator says

…you spectrum me unexpectedly

This is a reference to the colour that the kiss brings, but it’s also just a very poetic phrase that has stuck with me since I read it.

There are 17 stories packed into what is a short book. None of them hang around for long, but nearly all of them pack a punch in one way or another and are a delight to read.

My thanks to Influx Press for a review copy of this collection.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
June 30, 2018
Several friends told me I'd love this collection and they were right! Williams takes such pleasure in wordplay (in a non annoying way) that these stories feel joyful. My favorite was "Synaesthete, Would Like To Meet." There is also a thread of someone who left and the narrator trails through the stories speaking to the invisible "you," the way you do when everything you think relates to the person you have loved and lost.
Profile Image for Helen McClory.
Author 9 books195 followers
March 11, 2017
A Dead Whale!
Tense alluring moments in an airing cupboard!
Profile Image for Nathalie (keepreadingbooks).
231 reviews42 followers
December 4, 2017
I believe this is my first 5-star short story collection, ever. I could end the review right here, because that says plenty in itself – though I’ve read a fair few 4-star collections. But I very much want to share a few thoughts on these brilliant stories.

First of all, I’ve never had so many favourites in one collection. I feel like mentioning all of them, so you know what, I’ll go ahead and do that: Attrib., Swatch, Bs, Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef, Mischief, Spines, and Spins. All absolutely amazing. I have several more that are close seconds. In short, this is a collection that very nearly blew me away with every single story.

The book’s description promises a celebration of ‘the trickiness of language’ and a focus on the difficulty of communicating one’s true thoughts and feelings, and that is exactly what you get. Many of the stories involve dictionary excerpts or other reflections on words and their meaning or pronunciation and they are flawlessly woven into the story. There is a rhythm to the stories that seems so natural and so ingenious that I imagine the words flowing from Williams’ hand effortlessly, with no pretense or ambition involved whatsoever. This is probably wishful thinking, but that is how it feels.

Some of the stories follow a similar pattern. The first three or four stories started in an explosion of information about something seemingly random and you have no clue what’s going on. The scene gradually expands, the background information is filled in and sorted, and it turns out the scene isn’t nearly as bizarre as it seemed at first. It makes sense. And it makes sense in brilliant ways. The rest are more ‘regular’, if that is a thing, where a scene is set right away and the background information filled in in doses.

One, perhaps two, stories didn’t make much sense to me, but the rest were the best I’ve read in a long time. I will recommend this to anyone with any interest in ‘the trickiness of language’ and beautiful, (seemingly) effortless writing!

Profile Image for Tim.
70 reviews31 followers
March 4, 2018
Wow! Blown away by how stimulating, witty, beautiful, human, and gorgeously written this is. I'm not typically one for short story collections, but I genuinely did not want this to end so soon.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,989 reviews706 followers
April 12, 2018
3.5, rounded up.

As I have mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of the short story collection format (one or two stories are fine, but back to back I just get antsy for something meatier - it just seems to be an entire meal of appetizers, when I am longing for an entrée). That said, for the most part Williams' debut collection succeeds admirably, and she is both quirky and often fun to read, with some delicious and intelligent wordplay.

But as with any collection, there have to be a few duds, and at least a quarter of these I found either sophomoric or disgusting, and not up to her more satisfying offerings. [The most egregious of these were 'Rosette' and "Scutiform', which were trite and redundant, and 'Spines' in which three cretins get their jollies watching two hedgehogs drown - does EVERY Republic of Consciousness shortlist nominee have to feature animal torture?!] Should she publish a second volume of stories, I think I would take more leisure and read one a week, rather than all of them at one sitting, which might prove more satisfying..

Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
538 reviews99 followers
January 10, 2018
Attrib. turned out to be a much more complex reading experience than I had expected, and ultimately more fulfilling too.
There are seventeen stories in 158 pages. That's a lot of stories-too many; and some are very short and I think it's unrealistic to suppose that every one is going to hit the mark; some of the stories are little more than musings and for my money they disrupt the flow and momentum that mark the best books, and short story collections.
Hence my mediocre three star rating overall to reflect the very good and stimulating essays, sitting alongside those that don't ignite.

There's some linkage and continuity in the stories, specifically the frequent undertone of couples jockeying positions in their relationships. The (deliberate) absence of gender in these relationships, in every one of the stories, makes tuning into the interactions rather difficult, and even unsettling. It's an interesting technique that shines different light on people's vulnerabilities and self doubt as daily events determine the mood of the moment.
Two writers with significant recent critical and commercial success are David Szalay and Rachael Cusk. All That Man Is and Outline/ Transit aren't so far removed from Attrib., in that they comprise clearly identifiable, separate storylines, held together by a common narrator, and a declared theme (Szalay).
Eley Williams may well prefer to write her stories as stand alone entities for magazines, for online communities, but I would vouch that a relatively small adjustment would connect a number of them together (and to give further rein to her clever word play) relatively seamlessly.

What Williams does do very nicely is two things:

* Word (and imagery)play
The opening story- The Alphabet- will stay with me as a game for young children bored on a car journey. To sit alongside the phonetic alphabet is Williams's pictorial alphabet. H is for Hotel; H is for rugby posts.
The subject of aphasia cleverly adds a serious and tragic note to the fun.

* Take an interesting news story, shape it a bit, introduce some cryptic humour, and personalise.

My favourites- and the ones I will remember about this book:
Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan chef I already had reservations about Francois Mitterrand; these are now confirmed.
Attrib. Foley (sound) artist. I grew up with the eponymous Dolby sound. I had not come across Foley before, but this new knowledge will add to my enjoyment of atmospheric films.
SmoteStendhal syndrome. My appreciation of art is furthered.
BulkWhales- who are the motley crew who descend from nowhere on the (unfortunately) frequent occasions that a whale is beached?
Mischief Trained Rats. Another example of a true life, extraordinary story (see the Apopo scent detection rats, online), given a quirky twist by Williams

That’s five really good stories from the collection, coupled with a number of OK stories.
I will certainly pick up Eley Williams's full length novel when it appears (which it undoubtedly will, given the success and wider audience that Attrib. has generated).
Profile Image for Jackie Law.
876 reviews
September 29, 2017
Attrib. (and other stories), by Eley Williams, is a collection of seventeen short stories exploring the difficulties inherent in human communication. The author wields her prose with sensory precision. Her words and the silences between convey both the beauty and the grotesque nature of relationships. They reveal the distance between internal thought processes and their articulation.

Each tale captures a moment and the attendant waterfall of words cascading inside a protagonist’s head. These include simple observations, tangential dreams and unspoken aspirations. The difficulty of conveying even a fraction of understanding demonstrates the limitations of dialogue. A hand held, a kiss or a silence can say more than many words.

The collection opens with The Alphabet in which the narrator is slowly losing their vocabulary due to aphasia. As time passes their abilities deteriorate despite concerted efforts to slow degeneration. The telling is both poignant and piercing.

Swatch presents two young boys sitting in a cramped cupboard during a game of hide and seek. Peter considers objects through a lens coloured by the paints his father utilises. Stuart’s interests as they wait to be found are more prosaic.

I enjoyed Smote for the anguish of the narrator over whether or not to attempt a simple action, the consequences of which they chew on fiercely before having the decision taken from them. I will not pretend to understand all references made, as was the case with several stories, but the undercurrents still resonated.

Birdsong makes a recurring appearance, as does the complexity of lovers’ relationships and their misunderstandings. In And Back Again the protagonist ponders the possibility of proving their devotion by acting out the lyrics of a song despite being told clearly by the object of their affections how ridiculous they would consider such a gesture. The question hovers, who any romantic deed benefits the most.

Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef had me Googling to see if this grotesque practice had any basis in reality. I was distressed to find it did. Also distressing, for similar reasons, was Spines. Although an excellent study of the compromises made in order to maintain relationships the unnecessary and casual cruelty to small creatures had me in tears.

Platform considers a stranger inadvertently captured in a photograph during a moment missed by the narrator at the time due to their own concerns. It is a reminder that the whole world turns wherever we are with our own lives.

These stories offer much to contemplate alongside the original plot arcs and feats of expression. The moments of quiet brutality left me raw with their honesty, but this was a worthwhile read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Influx Press.
Profile Image for Ygraine.
571 reviews
February 5, 2019
“related—where are my glasses? for some reason i find that if i say,

‘glasses. glasses?’

in an authoritative way while searching for them it seems more likely that i shall find them or that i will somehow invoke them into being. this is a strategy that does not work for finding one’s dignity nor for finding you but glasses—possibly. announcing my intention to find them at least conveys a sense of control as i dither around picking up ornaments and looking under curtains. there is a paper published online that sets out this thesis, and i shall quote it aloud to make it real: speech can alter “ongoing cognitive (and even perceptual) processing in nontrivial ways”, effectively allowing one to concentrate better. say it ain’t so—announce, with an ounce of courage and conviction and the world’s your—


the world’s yours for the mistaking.”

williams' voice is distinctive; i read attrib. and other stories all at once, and came away with a sort of thickness glazing the inside of my mouth, an awareness that i could feel the rhythms of my own thought clunky in the patterns of williams' syntax. but as the immediate experience of reading fades, i feel less as though i've been overwhelmed and more as though i have been opened up, somehow - entirely unlike the emotional vivisection of rooney's normal people, but somehow analogous to it, a sort of resonance that plays on thoughts, feelings, images i'd tucked away inside myself and never come back to, visible again in someone else's words.

this collection is a playful, lively kaleidoscope of stories in which language, spoken, unspoken, considered and endlessly punned upon, crystallises moments of powerful feeling. and i think my experience of it somehow in turn refracts williams' own words, in front of a painting by bridget riley, kissed by a partner that the speaker has been contemplating and failing to actually kiss: "you spectrum me, unexpectedly."
Profile Image for WndyJW.
608 reviews99 followers
September 18, 2018
All good things must come to an end and, sadly, today I have come to the end of the delightful, playfully loquacious, wholly unique collection of Eley Williams’ short pieces. They aren’t exactly stories, although they tell a story, they are rides through Ms Williams mind that a word or image has triggered.

I have never read anything like these stories (for lack of a better word) and I did not want to finish this book. Ms Williams uses words and sounds and images better than any artist uses any medium to express romantic ideas like the tenderness of love and the anguish of loss, and to explore how complicated and difficult it can be to communicate exactly how we feel by showing us, with affectionate humor, how those with an uncommon disorder like numerological synesthesia or aphasia attempt to communicate.

I will keep this book close by to read over and over because every story is a feast for a linguaphile.

I cannot wait to read whatever Eley Williams writes next and highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
666 reviews3,236 followers
October 25, 2020
The short stories in Eley Williams' debut collection may not have any concrete connection to each other, but many of them depict brief moments of emotional drama. However, instead of burrowing into the characters' feelings or reasons for these instances of lovers breaking up and other life changes, the stories are filled with seemingly trivial, distracted trails of thought that we follow through until the apparent crisis has passed. This technique might feel hollow if it weren't for the skilful way the author shows how our encounters with others (especially in highly dramatic moments) are often consumed with a fragmentation of different thoughts. It points to the gaps between language and meaning, emotion and its expression, experience and memory. While this left me wondering about many of the details behind these stories, I was nevertheless very moved by the sensation of these private moments of contemplation which are often punctuated with a playful curiosity and humour.

Read my full review of Attrib by Eley Williams on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Simon Pitt.
19 reviews3 followers
March 16, 2017
This really is a fantastic collection - I've been reading Williams' stories for years and been waiting for this with glee. The stories are filled with wit, humour and verbal wordplay - and a breadth of cultural references.

You never quite know where each story is going to take you. Many feel inspired by intriguing, unusual situations - the rat that sniffs out mines, Stendhal syndrome (being overcome by works of art), aphasia (a condition that makes you lose your language ability), and a dish that consists of cooking rare birds drowned in brandy.

The stories are delicious in their unusual-ness, as well as their style with is hypnotic, incredibly eloquent but also extremely accessible and easy to read. I could have gone through them all in one sitting, and had to force myself not too!
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
934 reviews93 followers
February 14, 2021
I read this short book of very short stories over the course of three months, so I remember almost nothing about any individual story, but overall I remember feeling like I was listening to the characters' inner voice - not as described by the author, not an interior monologue, but the actual voice the characters hear when they think to themselves. These characters often have a charmingly direct, yet whimsical way of thinking. One describes the red tie of a man on the Tube looking like a "botched tracheotomy"; another declares "...I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll....." I bought her recent (and first) novel The Liar's Dictionary on the strength of this collection, and it was even better than I hoped!

Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,581 followers
September 29, 2021
(3.5) After enjoying her debut novel, The Liar’s Dictionary, this time last year, I was pleased to find Williams’s first book in a charity shop last year. Her stories are brief (generally under 10 pages) and 15 of the 17 are first-person narratives, often voiced by a heartbroken character looking for the words to describe their pain or woo back a departed lover. A love of etymology is patent and, as in Ali Smith’s work, the prose is enlivened by the wordplay.

The settings range from an art gallery to a beach where a whale has washed up, and the speakers tend to have peculiar careers like an ortolan chef or a trainer of landmine-detecting rats. My favourite was probably “Synaesthete, Would Like to Meet,” whose narrator is coached through online dating by a doctor.

I found a number of the stories too similar and thin, and it’s a shame that the hedgehog featured on the cover of the U.S. edition has to embody human carelessness in “Spines,” which is otherwise one of the standouts. But the enthusiasm and liveliness of the language were enough to win me over. (This was a secondhand purchase from the British Red Cross shop, Hay-on-Wye – how fun, then, to find the line “Did you know Timbuktu is twinned with Hay-on-Wye?”)

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
2 reviews
June 27, 2019
There was no plot, placement or characterisation, which I’m guessing was deliberate? But if the focus was meant to be the language, then further editing was required to make it have a real impact. There was a lot of needless gumpf and laboured metaphors in between a few scattered, beautiful turns of phrase. However, it did not feel like it was worth reading through the rest of the prose to get to get to those moments.
Having said all of this, I enjoyed ‘Spines’ very much, in which Williams focused on the story and tones down the verbal gymnastics. I think the best stories in this collection are the ones with multiple characters. The stories with a single character tend to be too introspective, which results in self indulgent writing, that is cliched and difficult to stick with.
When Williams writes well, she writes very well, but when she misses the mark, it is by a long shot.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
241 reviews34 followers
January 12, 2018
Pin-sharp, smart, succinct stories that play with language, words and meaning, covering topics as diverse as aphasia, kissing in front of paintings, hedgehogs in swimming pools and rats that can smell landmines. Come for the wordplay, stay for the raw emotion and brilliance.
Profile Image for TimInColorado.
225 reviews24 followers
February 8, 2021
Brilliant. After a couple of disappointing short story collections, reading (listening) to this collection was exhilirating. Love, love, love what Eley Williams can do with language. The full power and humor of words are at her command, and she tells a pretty good story too.

A favorite was the story "Smote (or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You in Front of a Print by Bridget Riley)". It's brilliant for many reasons but I've especially come to appreciate queer identified writers who can thread an element of modern queer life into a story without burdening the entire piece with it and especially! without messaging that gay, lesbian, trans individuals are first and foremost victims. So when the female narrator of Smote silently performs mental gymnastics over whether or not to steal a kiss with her girlfriend in an art gallery, it's a story of humor and poignancy and great humanity.

The lead story of the collection "Attrib." is another favorite and the entire book here is going onto my favorites shelf. Can't wait to read her new release The Liar's Dictionary.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 13 books2,038 followers
June 18, 2020
Playful, wild, and a little bit crazy. In this short story collection, Eley Williams messes about with language in these stories - often in the first person and addressed to another individual 'you' - from someone who is losing their words, to a character who gets synaesthesia after her sister drops the Yellow Pages on her head, and another who likes to quote the bible at his landmine-searching rat. Many stories are set to a backdrop of frustrated relationships where the narrator is rarely able to speak their mind, despite the many words in their head. I really enjoyed this.

Eley Williams will be interviewed as part of the Cabinet Rooms book club series online on 7th July 2020 at 7.30pm BST. Tickets here
Profile Image for Turkey Hash.
177 reviews38 followers
April 30, 2017
I like themed/interlinked short story collections, whether the individual stories are united by character, place or tone. So I loved the fixation on words here that unites Eley Williams' first book, if not all of the relevant stories. 'The Alphabet', the opening, was affecting – it starts off with a lot of wordplay on misplacing and losing things and then turns out to be about aphasia, a devastating condition. I wasn’t sure about 'Rosette', 'Smote (or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You In Front of a Print by Bridget Riley)' 'And Back Again,' or 'Bs' – though the stories are distinct, they rely a lot on the same voice, a kind of hyperactive, obsessive one, which is initially fun but emotionally one-dimensional. A lot (most?) of the stories hinge on sexual repression or unfulfilled desire. This works best when it's part of the story, like the one about the single synaesthete:

'There was no poetic extension, no misfiring of fizzing neurons as you said your name and shook my hand. I followed you to the cafe and as we spoke our coffee tasted of coffee and when we shared it your cake tasted only, gloriously, of cake. All the unnecessary colour and clamour just drained away—an oil spill's fringe of rainbow fading into pure water. In clarity we swapped numbers and arranged to meet again, and as soon as you boarded your bus all the colours and sounds and smells rushed back at me.'

Excellent, right?

I loved 'Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef' – the bird that’s eaten as a delicacy. It probably is tough on your love life, being an ortolan chef. And 'Bulk' was excellent, partly because of all the strange detail about beached whales that the writer brings (and the same with 'Mischief', the landmine-sniffing rat story). The stories about synathesia and the foley artist ('Synaesthete, Would Like to Meet' and 'Attrib.' respectively) hinge on the same devices but they work so well – they both interrogate the life of all the objects that fiction often relegates to a representative bit-part.
Profile Image for Laura Waddell.
Author 6 books26 followers
March 19, 2017
Enjoyed this. Is well described by its description commenting on "the trickiness of language." There is a story on synaesthesia, which is apt, as the rest of the stories take a synaesthetic approach to language, meaning blooming out in all directions, playfully. There are formal structures at play, too, in dictionary definitions observed and toyed with. Outside of observing language itself, which is the defining characteristic of this book, the stories often focus on relationships, and a couple of unusual workplaces. I particularly enjoyed a story of two boys playing hide and seek at a birthday party, and in reading it went to open my own airing cupboard to breathe in the atmosphere, one which captures a heart fluttering at the prospect of closeness to a lover whilst standing in front of a painting in a gallery in a gyroscopic whirl of black and white imagery, and a beautiful and original take on the birds and the bees in a morning domestic scene that is Snow White by way of La Traviata. This is an original writer who benefits the reader with a word curious mind.
Profile Image for Robert Lukins.
Author 2 books80 followers
March 1, 2018
The tricks of language untangled and retangled. It's precise, funny, and moving. Often in that order.
Profile Image for Leah.
516 reviews66 followers
July 18, 2018
Read for the Futurelearn course How to read a novel, 2018.

[EDIT: I was just listening to Death Cab for Cutie in my car today and it occurred to me that reading this collection is a very similar experience to listening to a well-constructed album. It’s complicated and abstract and never easily understood, but at its heart the emotions are near-universally relatable, and it’s strung together in such a way that it could almost be one person’s - albeit extremely melodramatic - life]

These are less stories and more accounts of singular moments in the lives of different people, who could probably be mostly all the same person. There is only one story told in the third person, all the rest are a very intimate, immediate first.

A difficult collection to read quickly, despite its small size. Each of these complex moments is fascinated with language, its use and confusion and connection with objects, feelings, actions. I found I needed to take a break after each one, which is partly why I've read so many comics simultaneously with this.

Being so involved in other peoples' heads is kind of exhausting, and this is not an easy book to enjoy in a simple sense of the word. I realised when reading the author's bio at the end of the book that I've followed her on Twitter for years, so now I have warm feelings of pride in someone I "know" having successfully published an intricate and complex collection of stories, even if I didn't entirely enjoy the process of reading them.
Profile Image for Joseph Schreiber.
433 reviews123 followers
December 30, 2017
An inventive, if a little uneven, debut collection. Williams clearly loves playing with language and, at her best, she is dazzling. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here. I read this with the Guardian Reading Group and will write a review toward the end of the month—I'd like to see where the discussion and the author chat goes. A longer review can be found here:
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