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Worlds from the Word's End

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This collection cements Joanna Walsh's reputation as one of the sharpest writers of this century. Wearing her learning lightly, Walsh's stories make us see the world afresh, from a freewheeling story on cycling (and Freud), to a country in which words themselves fall out of fashion—something that will never happen wherever Walsh is read.

“Joanna Walsh is clever, funny and merciless. She abducts people from their apparently normal lives and confronts them with the fact that dystopia is not a place in the future but a room in their own house." —Yuri Herrera, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

“Terrifyingly perceptive, subversively hilarious–these stories are part Daniil Kharms, part-Lydia Davis–while also managing to be singularly Joanna Walsh; how her writing always manages to make everything else I read (and write) seem specious and frivolous." —Sara Baume, author of The Line Made by Walking

“Worlds from the Word’s End is an anti-mainstream collection. Joanna Walsh’s thick, blurred and claustrophobic worlds deal with deconstruction, estrangement, silence and the disappearance of common language. This is unconventional writing that is going to enchant unconventional readers." —Dubravka Ugrešić, author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

128 pages, Paperback

First published September 12, 2017

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About the author

Joanna Walsh

20 books148 followers
JOANNA WALSH is a British writer. Her work has appeared in Granta Magazine, gorse journal, The Stinging Fly, and many others and has been anthologized in Dalkey's Best European Fiction 2015, Best British Short Stories 2014 and 2015, and elsewhere. Vertigo and Hotel were published internationally in 2015. Fractals, was published in the UK in 2013, and Hotel was published internationally in 2015. She writes literary and cultural criticism for The Guardian, The New Statesman, and others, is edits at 3:am Magazine, and Catapult, and created and runs the Twitter hashtag #readwomen, heralded by the New York Times as “a rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers.”

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Nat.
555 reviews3,178 followers
August 2, 2018
“You will agree: had you always the right book to hand, oh what reading you would have done!”

It's only fitting that right after I post my take on The Beautiful Book Covers Tag, I stumble across the striking cover for Worlds from the Word's End, designed and illustrated by Roman Muradov:

Worlds from the Word's End-- bookspoils
The detailed art structure sets the tone for what to expect in Worlds from the Word's End. A swift collection of short stories that (for the most) get straight to the point was exactly the kind of read I was seeking.

From a freewheeling story on cycling (and Freud), to a country in which words themselves fall out of fashion, to a bookshelf ('Bookselves') full of unread books coming to life to judge you.

“Something you never thought might happen: after a certain number of years the being who has read all these neglected books will step from your bookshelves, will sit down at your table (conveniently adjacent), will make a cup of coffee at the machine, having seen you use it so many times, especially when about to tackle a book, and will light a cigarette, insubstantial as steam, the odour of which will affect neither your carpets nor curtains. It will be the opposite of you, your inverse.”

Love of books is quietly present throughout the collection.

Another noteworthy story takes on the saying “Actions speak louder than words,” as language crumbles around them.

“You like women who are quiet? In the end it was not so difficult to let you go: you were only interested in the sound of your own voice. ”

The most memorable piece for me.

Also, this:

“I prefer Departures to Arrivals, by which time everything has already happened. Even as dawn approaches in long lozenges of broken light, Arrivals do not notice the beautiful station. They look down, headed for something known, for home, for bed. Of course some are met, but fewer than you would think, and they don’t stick around. Heroics are reserved for Departures: brave looks, last embraces, minutes slowed by kisses.”

But save for the two stories above that I enjoyed most, the nineteen tales in here are all over the place. The incoherent narrative (or lack thereof) became bothersome overtime, especially for the shorter pieces. They didn't pack a punch and were remarkably mediocre, so much so that you'd forget what it was about the minute you moved on to the next piece.

Though I was looking for short stories that were quick and precise, Worlds from the Word's End seemed to only deliver on the quick part.

Bottom line: I was drawn to the cover and that's the best to have come out of this collection for me.

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Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,024 reviews4,072 followers
June 29, 2017
Knowing the author is a strenuous devotee of Christine Brooke-Rose and Flann O’Brien is enough to know her stories will reach levels of mischievous brilliance, even if the Gass-strength title isn’t concrete proof. The highest praise I can bestow on these stories is to say Walsh has the impish humour and bookish worship of Ali Smith and Lydie Salvayre, and a humorous, lyrical style that makes her short and extremely attentive (to language) stories moreish and re-readable. Fortunately, Walsh’s output is prolific, and more will surely follow.
Profile Image for Alwynne.
586 reviews600 followers
December 10, 2020
Joanna Walsh’s stories have a detached, often coolly ironic feel, although there’s sometimes an accompanying sense of the absurd or wryly amusing scenes as in “Bookselves” where the narrator wakes at midnight to find her bookshelf has manifested another self, one who’s read all the books she’s ignored or abandoned, seated in her living room with a coffee and a cigarette leafing through pages. Walsh doesn’t do ‘rounded’ characters or outline intricate plots here, she's focused on mood or mind or language. She travels freely across genre boundaries, from the elliptical, aphoristic “Postcards from Two Hotels,” the unsettling, surreal “Two” to the “dystopian” society conjured in Walsh’s title story, one where the breakdown of communication in a relationship has somehow brought into being a new world where words have ceased to have use value,

“We scarcely noticed how the silence went mainstream but if I have to trace a pattern I’d say our nouns faded first. In everyday speech the grocery store became ‘that place over there’; your house, `the building one block from the corner, count two along.’…we began to revel in indirectness. Urban coolhunters would show off, limiting themselves to ‘that over there,’ and finally would do no more than grunt or jerk a thumb…We provincials were dumbstruck.”

These are distilled, sometimes razor-sharp pieces where every phrase, every sentence has weight, demanding an attentive, active reader, although even then some entries remain stubbornly resistant to easy interpretation. Walsh’s work seems to be quite divisive, highly regarded by Sara Baume, Dubravka Ugresic and Chris Kraus, she’s also been famously criticised by fellow writer Heidi Julavits for her unemotional, distanced/distancing approach, which seems to be missing the point, rather like judging fantasy for being too fanciful. Walsh is very much engaged in forms of intellectual inquiry, she has a poet’s fascination with words, a preoccupation with wordplay, although she is interested in women's experiences, she’s not setting out to be the kind of writer Julavits invokes, she’s connected to a different tradition: Walsh’s engagement with an alternative canon of experimental work including her championing of Christine Brooke-Rose should make that blatantly obvious. Not every entry here’s successful, but some of the strongest have a wonderful, inventive, fable-like aspect. I really enjoyed being inside Walsh’s world albeit briefly, and I’m keen to set up a return visit.
Profile Image for Miss Lo Flipo.
91 reviews241 followers
October 13, 2020
Yo quería que todos los cuentos de esta colección me gustasen tanto como el segundo, que se llama 'Seres lectores' (por cierto, el titulo original y el juego de palabras que propone es mucho más sugerente en inglés: 'Bookshelves'), pero no ha podido ser. ⁣

Empecé totalmente entusiasmada con Joanna Walsh y me he ido desinflando poco a poco, esperando encontrar otro chispazo como el de este relato que menciono. No ha sucedido, me temo. ⁣

Creo que lo más interesante de todo son las notas que Vanesa García Cazorla, la traductora, ha incluido al final del volumen y que casi son una clase magistral. Ha tenido que ser realmente complicado darle vueltas al texto para que causase un efecto lo más parecido posible al que, estoy segura, debe causar la versión original, repleta de dobles significados y volteretas semánticas. Es un currazo, y por eso me da pena no haber conectado del todo. ⁣

Eso sí, no le pierdo la pista a Walsh. 'Seres lectores' hace que mantenga la fe. ⁣
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,210 followers
April 12, 2021
Joanna Walsh is one of our most interesting authors both in the forms she uses (one of the stories in this collection was originally published in audio form as a vinyl record, her previous work to this, Seed, was published free online in an interactive form designed for tablets: https://seed-story.com/) and her use of language.

As with the excellent Vertigo (my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) this is another compilation of short stories (18 in all, in 108 pages) that were originally mostly published elsewhere but gathered together produce a strong, if not completely coherent, collection.

And this is also my sixth novel this year from And Other Stories - as with Sorry to Disrupt the Peace this is another book that certainly fits their aim to "publish writing that is mind-blowing, often ‘challenging’ and ‘shamelessly literary’."

I read this one on the way home, immediately after hearing Joanna Walsh, alongside another, and new, important voice in the short story, David Hayden, reading at the LRB Bookshop. This is certainly not a book that need fear the fate of those in the story 'Bookselves' (sic):

On your shelf more books are waiting, books you have ordered, their white bodies fat with potential. They are not the only books to oppress you. There are the books you would still like to buy - bookshops full of them - opening themselves into distant pale horizons that slide back endlessly into their gutters' slit, where they meet a barrier of card and paper [...] still they do not accuse you urgently enough. Nor do the books you take home from the bookshop and neglect though you have many times imagined - so vividly - sitting down with one of them.

The story goes on to imagine one’s alter-ego, your bookself, the being who has read all those neglected books, even completing the books you abandoned halfway through.

Walsh’s stories are far from conventional in terms of narrative and character (see interview below) – in the first story the narrator starts to mention it is Spring before pulling herself up:

I must be careful describing the season as they may always be mistaken for metaphor, and I would not like to lay down some kind of mood setting I didn't at all mean

There is a lot of word play as noted in Neil’s review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) such as the story “Like a Fish Needs A...” which is written in clichéd phrases.

But in the title story, the narrator tells, by contrast, of the gradual emergence of a world with no words.

Some of us wondered whether internet forums could have themselves been the final straw: the way we'd wanted to be noticed and, at the same time, to remain anon: the way we'd let out words float free, detach from our speech acts, become at once out avatars and our armour.

Even attempt by the authorities to reintroduce new words resulted not in a common language but in pockets of parallel neologisms.

But having no words is not all bad:

It was sad to see the last of the signs coming down, but it was also liberating. In the shop that was no longer called COFFEE, you couldn’t ask for a coffee any more, but that was OK. You could point, and the coffee tasted better, being only ‘that’ and not the same thing as everyone else had. It was never the same as the guy behind you’s coffee, or the coffee belonging to the guy in front of you. No one had a better cup than you, or a worse. For the first time, whatever it was, was your particular experience and yours alone.

The story concludes Yet is it quiet, but we are still thinking. In ways you can no longer describe – almost the reverse of Walsh’s self-professed vocation: I aim to write about the inexpressible via the expressible: in language. (https://26.org.uk/features/interviews...)

Femme Maison is narrated by a woman living alone in the family house after children have grown up and she has split from her partner, no longer needing to define herself by others:

You choose not to choose any more
You had cut but you had not pasted.

But instead her domestic life increasingly revolves around trying to keep her house satisfied ('A Generous Family House.' That's what the estate agent said when he came to value it. 'Generous.'):

You still attempt to generate one bag of rubbish every week: the bin demands it...the washing machine begs to be used but your piles of laundry are dwindling, pathetic.

The Story of Our Nation is inspired by the Mass- Observation movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass-Ob...) and our narrator works for the government hedge fund, but this is not an alternative investment sovereign wealth fund, rather her job involves monitoring in detail the emergence and maturing of leaves in the nation's shrubbery. She explains the shift in the economy:

What was missing was bare fact. So we were taken from jobs at KFC, the BMA, the IMF, the AA, MSN (and HP), the RAC, the RAF, TGI Friday's, from working in HE, HR, PR, IT; on PhDs, on MBAs, on Vases, from departments handling production and distribution. There was enough stuff already. Ahead it all: white goods, brown goods, green belts, grey areas, thin blue lines, yellow perils, red mists, you name it. We knew in our hearts it was time to stop making any more. It was time to sit back and look at what we'd got.

Except of course the very fact of observation alters that which is observed, including the observer themselves

To minimise this we have been issued with rubber gloves, with Wellington, with waterproof trousers, with mudguards, with condoms. We have been issued with hairnets, fishnets, falsies, gas masks, hygienic paper toilet seat covers, cling film. We will change nothing, not even by being there.

Overall a highly worthwhile read. Not every story is successful - or perhaps more accurately I wasn’t always successful in properly appreciating them. But with 18 stories in 108 pages they don’t overstay their welcome. Indeed there were times I felt I would love to read a novel - or at least a novella - developing the ideas further, although it must be said Walsh includes a surprising amount of development in such short pieces. Indeed I will leave the final word to the author from two interviews which sum up her approach perfectly:
I like stories that are ‘unfoldable’, that retain mystery, that repay different, and repeated readings, that go in different directions simultaneously. As an editor, if a piece of short fiction isn’t immediately doing several different things at once, I’m not interested.
I think, perhaps, I’m fundamentally not a “novelist”, which is difficult, as that is so often synonymous with the word “writer”. I have urgent things to say, and I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a detour for me to do this via conventional ideas of narrative or character – but I also can’t stand the measured tone of many essays: I don’t come from a place where too many things are set in stone. I write hybrid things: my short stories are always ideas stories, often explicitly so – they can occasionally sound like literary criticism or a Wikipedia entry – and I love to write creative nonfiction or whatever you want to call it, but my work in this area resembles story as much as essay
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews638 followers
September 8, 2017
When I read Vertigo, there was always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this was more than a collection of short stories: the book felt like there were unseen links, things that could perhaps only be intuited. And there were obvious links, too, in that the stories all showed us different aspects of womanhood. This new collection from Walsh much more clearly a collection without the same kind of link, although there are some themes that are common across multiple stories.

In Vertigo, one of the things I noticed was Walsh’s love of word play. This is even more evident in this set of stories. In fact, it is perhaps the most stand out feature of the book, starting even from it’s title. I was at an event last night where Walsh was one of the speakers and everyone had trouble with the title.

Perhaps one of most enjoyable stories is Bookselves (word play already apparent) in which Walsh imagines a creature in your house which reads all the books on your shelves that you have not read. In fact, it also reads all the parts of books that you do not read and is therefore very unhappy with you if your habit it to read the first few chapters, decide you don’t like the book and skip to the end to see how it finishes: your Bookself has to read the dull middle bit without getting the good bits. But your Bookself does also read all the books you bought because they would be good for you, but you never got round to them. Your discussions with your Bookself prove illuminating.

Walsh has several things to say about reading and another story Reading Habits runs through a group of people named only by initials, who have different approaches to what they read. It’s an entertaining story but it does read a bit like one of those old exam logic questions and you almost expect to be asked at the end “What does X read and who are his parents?”.

Another key topic is words themselves. Walsh is playing with words constantly, but the title story from the collection imagines a dystopian world where words have been completely devalued and have, in fact, fallen out of use. You sort of have to read it to see how it works (which is almost a comment on what the story is about).

All the way through, Walsh is inspired by a word or a phrase but lets her imagination run free as she explores the topic. We see cycle as a both a bicycle and a woman’s menstrual cycle presented in the same story. We see a binary systems of star/black hole sitting alongside a thin and a fat woman (you can guess which one represents the black hole).

I could go on. There is much more variety in this book than in Vertigo and far more word play. This makes it an entertaining, occasionally baffling read. But, for me, the mysterious cohesiveness of Vertigo makes that a slightly stronger collection. This one is well worth reading, though. At 116 pages of relatively large print, it does not take long to read. Indeed, I had almost finished by the time I got off the train on the way back from the event mentioned above where I bought it!
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,777 reviews1,261 followers
April 12, 2021
And Other Stories is a publisher set up as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, which aims to be a home for collaboration and “works on the principle that great new books will be heard about and read thanks to the combined intelligence of a number of people: editors, readers, translators, critics, literary promoters and academics”.

Joanna Walsh is a short story writer and contributing editor to the literary webzine 3AM. She was also a judge on the 2016 Goldsmith Prize – which was the panel which recognised the brilliance of Solar Bones unlike the recent Booker panel which longlisted but then failed to shortlist it.

I found an interview with Joanna Walsh, where she described her writing technique as follows:

I work from … notebooks in which I note things: objects, people, occurrences, words, feelings, thoughts, phrases that strike me, or I find words that seem the right way to say something clearly …. I transcribe the notebooks into a … program that allows me to see my work in blocks, and swap parts around easily. I work a lot via cut-&-pasting. When I realise I’ve noted a number of things that work together I copy them into a separate file and wait for them to take some shape. When they begin to form into clumps, I have to exert some artifice upon them to shape them further

And I feel that this review captured the essence of this collection. Her writing relies heavily on word play, but it is not the art-allusion filled word play of say Playing Possum or the lexiography/onomasiology of Attrib. and other stories (to pick two books I have read very recently) but more of a simple play, turning common phrases and clichés on their head (or sometimes interpreting them literally – particularly in the bicycle filled story “Like a fish Needs a …”

My favourite story was the title story “Worlds from the Word’s End”, one which postulates a future society where words are gradually eliminated, and this story serves as an interesting example of Walsh’s techniques, containing as it does:

simple observations on current society - Not being a literary nation we’d never got our heads around metaphor, and our frequent grammatical errors were only one less thing to lose. We said ‘kinda’ a lot and ‘sort of’ but y’know …. We lost heart and failed to finish sentences;

amusing ideas as to how he elimination started as a trend. Early adapters, seeking something retro as usual, looked to their grannies, their aunties: silent women in cardigans who never went out”; and how it then developed as fashion “we began to revel in indirectness. Urban coolhunters would show off, limiting themselves to ‘that over there’ and finally would do no more than grunt and jerk a thumb”;

links to current social trends some of us wondered whether internet forums could have themselves been the final straw …. the way we’d wanted what we said to be noticed and yet at the same time remain anon, the way we’d let our words float free .. become at once our armours and our avatar;

very simple puns “We provincials were dumbstruck”;

and more worked (albeit still simple) wordplay “folks have always complained that a man’s word isn’t worth as much as it used to be, that promises nowadays are ten a penny, but radical economists charted a steep devaluation … the currency went into freefall …a picture to five thousand, ten thousand words, a million;

more complex exploration of what the loss of words might mean, so that now when you ordered say coffee the fact that it was no longer coffee but simply something you pointed at meant it could no longer be compared to other people’s coffee and “for the first time, whatever it was, was your particular experience and yours alone.

Another story I enjoyed was “Femme Maison”, a woman living alone after her children have left home and her husband has left her, struggling to rebuild an identity and with increasingly misplacing things, she starts to story pre-occupied with knowing she has forgotten something, to eventually remember that she was typing on her computer and “had cut but not pasted”.

I enjoyed this on three levels – firstly as something that actually happens to me as I write my Goodreads reviews like this one, while simultaneously answering emails and cooking my children’s dinner; secondly as a nice wordplay on the ladies situation and sense of listlessness having "cut" her husband and children from her life but not having "pasted" anything to replace it; and thirdly as a metaphor for Walsh’s own writing technique as per the interview excerpt above (one which of course I literally cut and paste from that interview – so maybe even in a fourth sense).

Others however did not really fulfill their conception – “Bookself” has the brilliant idea of an alter-ego who lives on your bookshelves and reads all the books that you have not completed or even started, but I felt failed to really develop the premise; while others I was surprised to see in such a literary collection - “Exes” is a very simple riff on “x” on texts and emails which I would expect to see in a Sunday newspaper supplement.

Not only are the stories in this collection often very short, and the longest only 12 well spaced pages in length, but there is a lightness to Walsh’s writing which makes these stories individually very easy and fascinating to consume, but has the disadvantage that none of them feel entirely satisfying. In my review of Attrib. and other stories (incidentally by Eley Williams - the literary editor of 3AM), I said that William's short story book was the literary equivalent of a tasting menu. This book I feel is perhaps closer to a series of high quality amuse bouche.

My thanks to And Other Stories for a review copy.
Profile Image for Gerasimos Reads .
326 reviews168 followers
October 7, 2017
I have to admit that I am very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this. I don’t know why (it probably has to do with the cheap looking cover) but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. I kind of expected it to be too amateur, almost like something that someone in a creative writing class would write, but it was often extremely intelligent. Almost every story marked a moment of personal inspiration for me (which is fitting considering the fact that I read this book for a creative writing class) and after every story I had to stop and think. It surprised me all the time and when I thought I had understood her style and where she is coming from, so I was certain that the next story wouldn’t surprise me again, she would manage to surprise me yet again anyway. It took me at least 3 or 4 stories to get into her world and start liking her writing (and there still was the odd story every once in a while that I just couldn’t get), but taking into account that this 100-page book packs in it 18 stories, most of which I loved, it was definitely a successful anthology. However, what surprised me the most was how much her subject matters and themes resonated with me. Every story would talk about something that I was just thinking about recently (or at least this is how it felt like) or it would bring back memories and thoughts I’ve had in the past. There was even a story set in my hometown (Athens).

My favourite stories were “Femme Maison”, “Enzo Ponza”, “Simple Hans” and “Hauptbahnhof”.
653 reviews59 followers
November 19, 2020
Escribe Joanna Walsh un relato titulado ‘Seres lectores’ que es casi un ensayo que es casi un cuento de terror. En él describe una biblioteca personal en la que “te aguardan más libros que te gustaría leer, libros que has encargado, con sus blancos cuerpos fecundos en posibilidades”. Y no sólo eso, sino que también en la que causan desasosiego los libros que faltan, los libros “que te gustaría comprar -librerías llenas de ellos- y que se abren hacia lejanos y pálidos horizontes que se amplían sin cesar”. Son tantos que ya no provocan la urgencia de leerlos aunque uno se imagine sentándose a leerlos ya que pueden “ser abiertos en cualquier momento”.

Lo que uno no espera es encontrarse un día con su “yo lector”, un doppelgänger que ya ha leído justamente los que tú aún no has tocado, todos los que has abandonado o has olvidado a medias. Es entonces cuando llevas “a tu yo lector hacia tu biblioteca que, después de años de acumulación, abarca desde el suelo hasta el techo”, empiezas a sacar libros, a intentar recordar los pendientes, que de tan viejos que son ni has abierto ni tú ni tu doble, y cuando todo ese papel se acumule en el suelo en un desorden aún mayor que el anterior llegarás a una conclusión. Y esta conclusión te sorprenderá.

Hay cierta coherencia en los relatos de esta colección de Walsh, ya que domina lo grotesco, la deformación de las leyes naturales y de la lógica para mostrar en esos pliegues las incoherencias e incomunicaciones de los seres humanos. La inquietante distopía que da título al libro es no sólo de los mejores relatos del ciclo sino que resume muy bien las intenciones de la autora, y en el que los juegos de palabras y dobles sentidos, casi siempre intraducibles, entroncan su prosa con el surrealismo y el nonsense.
Profile Image for Jackie Law.
876 reviews
October 23, 2017
Worlds From The Word’s End, by Joanna Walsh, is a collection of eighteen short stories that play with the meanings of words and the ideas they can convey. Some of the tales employ routine storytelling techniques, others are more opaque.

The collection opens with Two, which keeps the reader guessing what the Two may be. As with many of the stories, it references the passing of time in a not quite linear way. The setting is everyday but is inhabited strangely, reasons for this left to conjecture.

Bookselves considers how those who own books regard their possessions, how they accumulate and are used, how this changes over time. There are some gorgeous, rich phrases – books ‘fat with potential’, books left in bookshops because ‘they do not accuse you urgently enough’, books bought that now ‘ lie primed to spring, ever solicitous of your attention.’

The titular tale looks at a world that has run out of words which were too often misunderstood. It describes a relationship breakdown, where speech has failed as a means of communication:

“In the republic of words, I love you induced anxiety. How was your day? would elicit merely a sigh. I think people just got tired, tired of explaining things they’d already said to one another, exhausted by the process of excavating words with words.”

“You like women who are quiet? In the end it was not so difficult to let you go: you were only interested in the sound of your own voice. Pretty soon we had nothing left to say”

There are many interesting ideas to ponder throughout the book, although at times these rise above the storytelling, diverting attention from plot development. The insights are sharp and precise but translating relevance often less clear. Travelling Light, about the degeneration of a bulky shipment as it traverses Europe, could be a metaphor for many things.

I particularly enjoyed Femme Maison. Weaving the skeins of a familiar situation – going into a room for a reason only to be distracted, unable to recollect why there – the story explores the changing value ascribed to accumulated possessions, including self.

Two Secretaries is an amusing depiction of unacknowledged rivalry in the workplace.

Enzo Ponzo challenges normalcy, telling an engaging story from an odd premise.

The Suitcase Dog I also found odd, one of the more opaque tales.

The premise and propogation in many of the stories can be strange in places yet each contains phrases that pierce the heart of the ideas they convey. They are perceptive, emotive. Several are also disturbing.

Simple Hans depicted sex acts more graphically than I care for.

Hauptbahnhof, about a person living in a railway station waiting for a person they someday expect to meet there, could be read as devotion yet is clearly obsession.

A collection that impresses for its use of language more than entertainment or ease of understanding. This is a book I have already returned to, gaining new insights with each revisit. It is a clever if not entirely straightforward read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, And Other Stories.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
281 reviews7 followers
July 28, 2018
Clever and outlandish stories. Playfulness with words. A recurrent theme across the stories is the comparison of two objects or situations, such as the prized pair a woman is preparing for departure; two hotel rooms; two secretaries; and arrivals and departures in the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin, where a woman goes to visit a man but doesn't remember his address and begins living at the metro station in hopes of one day running into him. There are more otherworldly stories, such as a country where words and sentences disappear completely from use and people are left to silently communicate; a child who brings home an older man to live with her and her family only later to realize he is a notorious figure; and a large woman as a black hole who can produce anything from her bag while living on the side of the road and her only friend, the thin woman, who visits her who is a companion star (another comparison of two things).
Profile Image for George Christie.
48 reviews2 followers
September 4, 2017
First of all, I really like this book. The variety of stories and the strange depths and odd flows of their passage(s) are interesting in a challenging way. All well and good. But when I re-open it to remind myself (I read it probably two months ago but only with September-cool nights have I found myself inclined to write) I am surprised to feel as if I never read it. What was I doing while my eyes were going across the page?

I do remember the title story. I do remember going to the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT soon after, where they had an exhibition of three artists who were deconstructing words into and back out of art and my brother was talking about Hagel (he's a philosopher, so can't help it) and the idea that the ultimate art might be of exploded language (or some such) and I was struck by how timeless, and timely, Walsh's world without words was within our family visit. So that was cool.

About the rest I am unsure. And that's probably just fine with Walsh, as there are so many unclosed loops and non-continuous narratives in these writings that the act of reading itself almost becomes illusional, the uncertainty of what is happening extending off the page into one's own mind.

So, I like "Worlds from the Word's End," the same way I like blowing bubbles. Is it that which is contained, or the container that is the bubble? The glistening swirl or the movement through the air? Waiting for the pop of the last one or the growth of the next one?

Which probably feels unconnected and spurious, and I'm no expert, but, given a book which has as a central tenant the dismemberment of word-phrase-sentence-time as we pretend to know it, I feel the wiser path is not to try to explain back together what Walsh has deftly parted, but to accept them strewn as they are, across my mind, in untrained thoughts of frameless, near-word sound.
Profile Image for Joseph.
467 reviews120 followers
August 19, 2017
Sometimes you come across a book which nudges you out of your comfort zone, like an exotic literary dish which looks and tastes different, exciting and that wee bit dangerous. This slender collection of short (and some very short) stories had that effect on me.

This was the first time I read anything by Joanna Walsh and her style struck me for its whimsical invention and clever wordplay. The title piece – Worlds from the Word’s End – is a perfect example. It features a narrator who writes a final letter to an estranged partner in a world where words are no longer in use and language has become an old-fashioned means of communication only current amongst immigrants. It is a post-apocalyptic scenario with a metaphorical weirdness worthy of China Miéville. Yet the title also instantly reveals an author who delights in linguistic virtuosity and brilliant, startling puns. Much of the story in fact keeps up the title’s play on wor(l)ds, as in “We were always words apart”, “I’m dead to the word and you don’t have a care in it”, “Love’s a word that makes the word go round … I love you and I’m not aloud…”

A similar approach can be seen in “Bookselves”, which imagines a ghostly presence which inhabits our bookshelves and voraciously reads all the books we’ve left unopened or uncompleted: the relics of a more intense age of reading…washed up on a beech of elegant shelves. The imagery is fantastical, but the insight into common reading habits is all too real.

Some stories emphasize the surreal and border on the obscure – I’m still grappling with the opening story, “Two” whose meanings yet escape me. Other pieces include an Angela-Carteresque retelling of “Clever Hans”, now renamed Simple Hans and laced with blood and sex, and the one-pager “Exes” which is at once a reflection on kisses in text messages (x’s) and a bittersweet memoir of past relationships (“exes”).

Too clever by half? Yes, but only if you want to keep living in the same old words.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,583 reviews999 followers
September 6, 2017
Short conceptual pieces that often drift somewhere between narrative and essay, only to veer into the unexpected. This feels very much like a collection rather than a cohesive work, but in its brevity and flashes of brilliance like the title story and "Hauptbahnof" this served very nicely as my introduction to Walsh's unique voice and patterns of thought. (Besides her introduction for a recent Verbivoraceous Press Christine Brooke-Rose reissue -- and I couldn't help but note that one story very much felt like CBR's SuchSuch in miniature.)

Profile Image for Raül De Tena.
203 reviews73 followers
December 19, 2020
“Prefiero leer los libros en castellano porque, cuando leo, no soporto tener la sensación de que me estoy perdiendo algo porque no controlo el lenguaje al 100%… Y hay que admitir que, en cuestiones de lenguaje, por mucho que estudies uno que no sea tu lengua materna, llegar a controlarlo al 100% es prácticamente imposible“. Esto es algo que he repetido una y mil veces en mi vida por mucho que, realmente, claro que leo en inglés para no perder la práctica. Y, aunque me mantengo en lo dicho, hay veces que también me acuerdo de Nabokov.

Al fin y al cabo, ahí está ese señor ruso que escribió en inglés como nadie. Los libros de Vladimir Nabokov hacen gala de un uso del lenguaje endiablado y revolucionario que, sin embargo, resulta prácticamente imposible traducir: cuando pierdes su sentido completo es, precisamente, cuando ha pasado por las manos de un traductor. Esta es una eterna contradicción en la que vivo como lector y que ha vuelto a mi cabeza con más fuerza que nunca a medida que iba pasando las páginas de “Mundos del Fin de la Palabra“, el magistral libro de relatos de Joanna Walsh que acaba de publicar en nuestro país la editorial Periférica (que, de hecho, ya había publicado su anterior “Vértigo“).

El mismo título de este tomo ya hace pensar en el dulce acto de retorcer las palabras que se encuentra en su interior: “Mundos del Fin de la Palabra” proviene del inglés “Worlds From The Word’s End“, una subversión del más previsible “Words From The World’s End” (es decir: “palabras desde el fin del mundo”). Este es el título, a su vez, del relato que actúa a modo de corazón en el libro de Walsh: una pieza que habla, fundamentalmente, de un mundo en el que las palabras han dejado de tener sentido y han caído en total desuso, dividiendo a la población entre los que optan por el silencio y por los que siguen aferrándose a las palabras.

“Había, desde luego, teorías conspirativas. La gente mayor siempre se ha quejado de que la palabra de un hombre ya no vale tanto como solía valer, de que las promesas hoy en día valen dos duros, pero los economistas radicales señalaron una exorbitante devaluación. En tiempos, según postulaban, podías entablar una conversación palabra por palabra, aunque una imagen siempre había valido más que mil de éstas. Ése era el sistema: sabíamos lo que debíamos hacer, y era cumplir nuestra palabra, pero esa moneda estaba cayendo en picado: una imagen por cinco mil, diez mil palabras, ¡un millón! A pesar de las nuevas acuñaciones, pronto fue imposible intercambiar una palabra con nadie, a menos que la vendieras en el mercado negro del lenguaje obsceno“, escribe Joanna Walsh.

Un párrafo que, como lector en castellano, probablemente te produzca un doble escalofrío de placer provocado tanto por su fondo (sobre el valor de las palabras) como por su forma (con ese juego de reiteraciones y dobles sentidos). Curiosamente, este párrafo incluye una aclaración a pie de página (bueno, al final del libro) en el que la traductora, Vanesa García Cazorla, amplifica el buen trabajo de traducción con un excelente trabajo pedagógico. Explica, por cierto, todas las implicaciones de las frases originales en inglés (“we knew where we stood, and it was by our words“) y su doble sentido (como “cumplir las promesas” y también como “apoyar algo o a alguien“).

Este es un ejemplo pluscuamperfecto para resaltar el hecho de que “Mundos del Fin de la Palabra” es un libro de relatos excelente, pero que resulta igual de excelente leído en castellano gracias a la traducción casi obsesiva de Vanesa García Cazorla. Pero es que solo una traducción obsesiva podía hacer honor a un original cuya principal raz´no de existir es precisamente el juego con el propio lenguaje. La excelente traducción al castellano y sus abundantes notas permiten disfrutar al cien por cien de una colección de relatos en los que Joanna Walsh nos avisa que, además del final del palabra, también nos estamos enfrentando al final del mundo tal y como lo conocíamos.

Un ánimo puramente existencialista lubrica una pluma que pudiera parecer surrealista cuando en verdad lo único que está haciendo es poner en tela de juicio las preconcepciones del lector para que este las reflexione y les otorgue el valor que crea pertinente una vez las haya replanteado. A ese respecto, brillan también otros relatos como “Equis” (donde los “exes” sentimentales se mezclan con las “equis” que indican besos al final de las comunicaciones virtuales -por ejemplo: xxoo-), “Enzo Ponza” (y su increíble secuestro) o “Hans El Simplón” (y el cambio de género de su protagonista a lo “Orlando” en versión postmoderna).

Pero, sobre todo, el relato que mejor dialoga con el mencionado “Mundo sdel Fin de la Palabra” es “El Relato de Nuestra Nación“, que se abre con un párrafo que la escritora ensambla a partir de expresiones robadas de la descripción del juego de rol “Ravensword“. A partir de ahí, la escritora habla de un mundo que se ha detenido en seco y que, en vez de seguir produciendo desaforadamente, se dedica a contar lo que ya ha producido: “Lo teníamos todo: electrodomésticos de línea blanca, electrodomésticos de línea marrón, cinturones verdes, áreas grises, delgadas líneas azules, peligros amarillos, alertas rojas, de todo. Sabíamos en lo profundo de nuestro ser que era el momento de hacer más. Era el momento de hacer una pausa y contemplar lo que teníamos“.

De eso va “Mundos del Fin de la Palabra“: de asumir que nos hemos metido en un jardín imposible e impracticable del que parece que no podamos salir. Un jardín en el que las palabras y la realidad, el mundo en general, parece haber perdido un significado primigenio que ha quedado enterrado en el exceso (de información, de discursos, de entretenimiento, de personas, de todo). Un significado que solo se puede recuperar, como dirían The Knife, “Shaking The Habitual“. Walsh no está sola en su empeño.

De paso, y ya en una nota conclusiva a título meramente personal, resulta que esta edición en castellano me da la excusa definitiva para reiterar lo de “prefiero leer libros en castellano“… Al fin y al cabo, nos encontramos ante un ejemplo sublime de que, incluso pasado por tamizador de la traducción, es posible entender al 100% las complejidades del idioma original de cualquier manuscrito.
Profile Image for Roos.
40 reviews4 followers
April 24, 2018
What a weird little book of short stories; some of them just one page long, others reaching ten pages. For me, the main theme of the book is 'aloneness'. How people get stuck, only briefly or for a long period of time, into there own (sur)reality, consciously or not. A lot of the stories have a David Lynchian air around them, but with a jest.
This is a collection of 'chemistry experiments'; this is a collection of 'essais', in the true meaning of Michel de Montaigne. This is a collection of well-crafted stories. It took me a while to delf into the subconsciousness of this book, but once there, I enjoyed the trip.
Profile Image for Cally Mac.
237 reviews68 followers
September 28, 2017
This was super clever and very fun and witty. Every story is an excellent example of what the short story should be. But, as a collection, it could have been better. I felt like it was much of the same. The conceptual approach to the stories were great, but I want at least one or two stories that lay some kind of rich, emotional groundwork to get you personally involved with the work.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,092 reviews13 followers
May 31, 2018
I almost quit after the first story. For me, this was a mix of stories I had difficulty engaging with, stories that were thought-provoking, and stories that reminded me of Lydia Davis stories and that I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Sonia Crites.
168 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2017
Such wonderful and quirky short stories. Such skilled writing. This author is clearly highly skilled with words. My favorite story was Bookshelves but none of them disappointed.
Profile Image for Vilis.
594 reviews92 followers
May 29, 2018
Ja stāsti ir domāti pārlasīšanai, tad būtu labi, ja pēc pirmās reizes paliktu sajūta, ka gribas un ir vērts tos pārlasīt. Šeit tā bija tikai dažiem stāstiem.
Profile Image for Richard Clesham.
18 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2021
found this to be a very uneven collection, but with some excellent stories, particularly Enzo Ponza
Profile Image for Cecilia.
192 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2017
Hmmm. I am little torn with this collection of short stories. I really liked the use of language and that they are inventive, offbeat and a celebration of the mundane BUT for the first time in my life I understand what an architecture profession once said about a project - they are a one-liner. When I look back at my architecture project - a metal, concrete and Plexiglas chair that I described as a means of getting different sensations from each side of the body, I have to admit (a mere 23 years later) that what most impressed me about that chair is that it stood and held one's weight. I marveled that I with my girl hands had designed and built this silly looking chair. I welded and bent metal, framed and poured concrete, had Plexiglas cut to size and then defying my own strength assembled it and had it delivered to school and then back home (it is currently a piece of garden art). This collection of stories therefore reminds me of my chair - impressive in their construction, admirable in their distribution but simple nevertheless. Still, I am always a sucker for the simple (and likely forgettable) and so I gave it four stars. Thanks for making me feel better about my chair....
Profile Image for Caro.
368 reviews20 followers
July 7, 2017
Some of the stories I really like it. Some others they pass by without leaving me any feelings but instead quite empty... Is a short collection and it past fast, sadly as the book pass it fast probably my memory of the stories... I can just select a couple of them
Profile Image for Caroline.
768 reviews220 followers
July 7, 2017
I really enjoyed these brief and creative investigations into a wide array of relationships, ideas, habits, phrases, scientific concepts, etc etc. I’m not a short story reader, but this arrived as part of the & Other Stories subscription, so I thought, I’ll give it a try. When I looked up I was 40 pages in, and each session was the same: ‘Oh, just one more.’ They are not your usual short story, which is why they work for me.

Inventive word play, quirky brain trails, really delightful. I will look for more.
Profile Image for Chris Browning.
976 reviews9 followers
February 21, 2023
There’s a couple of striking pieces in here, particularly the first story, but a good two thirds of them feel like writing exercises that the author is far too proud of. There’s a few stories which feel like they’re less stories and more a series of execrable puns/ plays on words stretched beyond their limit. Other pieces are so frustratingly opaque they feel like they’re barely there. Tough going with only a handful of glimmers of true inspiration
Profile Image for Martin.
223 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2020
I read this as I love absurdism and existentialism. Unfortunately this was just nonsensical and derivative in countless accounts. You can tell social commentary was being attempted, but a lot of it read like an introduction to white feminism, ie nothing good. I ended up not finishing this book because I was so bored I was frustrated.

Profile Image for Aurelio.
384 reviews11 followers
February 27, 2022
Un libro con un juego de palabras continuo, de situaciones sin principio ni final. Elabora juegos de palabras con imágenes.
Un libro que requiere varias lecturas por lo laberíntico de sus planteamientos y un exigente esfuerzo lector por encuadrar el círculo en cada relato, digamos que tiene una lectura curiosa y arriesgada en su desarrollo.
Profile Image for Shatterlings.
947 reviews11 followers
August 3, 2017
This is a short book of short stories, it only took me an hour to read. But I enjoyed them, the one about the bookshelf and the one about words were so deliciously exotic. There are far worse ways to spend an hour than reading these unusual stories.
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