‘What’s it about? That’s the only question in the world worth asking.’
‘What do you mean, what’s it all about?’
‘Not all. Just what’s it about. What’s it all about’s a different question and it’s too big’
This is the question lying at the heart of James Robertson’s short story collection ‘Republics of the Mind’ – what’s it all about? Over twenty-two stories Robertson delves deep into contemporary Scotland, coming up only momentarily for air before diving the reader back down into another soul and another life. We cross paths with zoo-keepers, car salespeople, mental patients, office workers and yet, the same themes remain: hope, heartbreak and philosophy.
She plucked at it, filled with a terrible dread of being old, of not having done all these things. It was not death she feared, but waiting for death. All she wanted, all she had ever wanted, was to be alive.
Robertson begins with the angry, shocking tale of ‘Giraffe’ where we meet Jimmy the zoo keeper and are exposed to the horrors and pathos of animal cruelty, and ends in an abandoned mental hospital with an old man tracking down records of his grandfather. Between these two points are a host of characters; some familiar, some inspiring and some repellent. This collection is bittersweet, a place where the life affirming and the tragic meet in your local pub.
Previously, Robertson has been compared with the likes of James Kelman and Irvine Welsh as evidence of his ‘gritty, urban, hyper-realism’ style. However, this view fails to account for the surrealist and fantastic threads that run through this writing. In ‘Tilt’ we are taken through the narrator’s mind-bending conception of the universe and in ‘The Plagues’ a young bookseller sees legions of frogs who follow him through the streets and lurk between books.
He remembered a poem from his childhood about walking the pavement and how the bears would get you if you stepped on the lines. Walking to the pub was like that, only with frogs.
Robertson’s style is both fresh and insinuating. The neurosis of his characters often greet the reader oddly like old friends and even, the darkest characters betray something recognisable in ourselves. ‘Republics of the Mind’ feels like a jar of souls, some in pain, others joyful, and all looking for meaning and to connect.
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The Thiessen Review is holding a giveaway for ‘Republics of the Mind’!! Exciting times, guys :p and we have two copies available.
How to enter:
Three easy steps!
- Go to The Thiessen Review on Facebook (make sure you’re following us!)
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- Leave a comment below saying you have entered!
The competition will end on Friday 7th December at 8pm and two winners will be selected at random.
The giveaway is officially closed. Congratulations to our two winners Paul Cuddihy and beckybee27!!!