Books in brief: Bizarre, fantastic stories from Frank McGuinness and Yukiko Motoy

Two collections full of twisting, disturbing, shocking, enlightening and rewarding tales

Frank McGuinness. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Frank McGuinness. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Paprika

By Frank McGuinness

Brandon, €16.99

Real literary people figure in two rather bizarre stories in this collection: Jane Austen, whom a poor woman believes could have caused the Great Famine in Ireland, and the early-modern Scottish poet Robert Henryson, nursed by another deluded woman as he lay dying. These somewhat surreal stories contrast with most of the others, such as Chocolate and Oranges, which is harshly realistic with a lovely twist at the end. Hywel is a sad story of memories of a boyhood love and the narrow, prejudiced small-town world of yesteryear. Giving Your Child a Gun for Christmas is about the fears of a gentle boy used to being bullied in small-town Donegal in the 1960s. The Widow’s Ferret is a shocking story of a grief-maddened widow of a murdered RUC man, while Animals is a disturbing account of the rape of a male teacher by a male colleague – the title being tied in skilfully with the longing for revenge. The Opening Night stands out; it’s a really powerful insight into the acting profession, superbly told and with a stunningly shocking ending.

BRIAN MAYE

Picnic in the Storm

By Yukiko Motoya

Corsair, €18

An increasingly desperate housewife resorts to bodybuilding in order to re-enchant her husband. A sales attendant in a clothing boutique encounters a customer who may or may not be human. Businessmen with umbrellas in a typhoon hold the secret to flying. These are some of the 11 quirky and fantastic stories that form Picnic in the Storm, the English-language debut of Yukiko Motoya.

Strung together like strange beads on a necklace, these stories sing with the otherness of human life, the randomness of chance encounters and the universality of bewilderment. The characters are vividly drawn, making their ways through their own stories with a wilful and powerful intent that the reader simply cannot ignore.

Motoya revels in the artistry of her fiction, challenging her readers with each and every story, their surrealism and the strangeness of the human experience their only connecting theme. Brave, unusual and highly original, Picnic in the Storm not only offers endless entertainment but a rewarding and enlightening reading experience.

BECKY LONG

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