Sunday, 1 March 2009

Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance by Matthew Kneale

A short story from the author of English Passengers, picked up because I really loved that book and I'm trying to read more short stories this year. This is very different to English Passengers but also very good.

The stories are set in various countries, and they all centre around slightly reprehensible characters or actions. The crimes in question are sometimes actually crimes in a legal sense, but more often than not they are more of a moral nature, and leave the reader with a feeling that something slightly wrong has occurred, but exactly what can be quite elusive.

My favourite story from this collection was the first one, Stone. This centres on a family who like exotic holidays, but always take organised tours, so never really venture off the beaten track. Under 'keeping up with the Jones's' type pressure, they take a trip to China under their own steam. From the first moment this doesn't go to plan as the language barrier leads them to the wrong town, where they are helped by a local man, who then doesn't leave them alone. When some expensive jewellery goes missing, the differences between western and Chinese bureaucracy become apparent, leading to horrific consequences.

Another one I particularly liked was 'Sound', which centred around a young man living in London, perfectly content with his new, expensive flat and developing relationship. All seems to be going perfectly well in his life until he believes himself to be being stalked by a man who keeps walking past his flat. After following this man himself he glimpses a knife and so arms himself, a relatively small crime. These two men never speak, and during the inevitable confrontation, it is not until one of them does that the misunderstanding becomes apparent, and a much larger crime is avoided.

Other stories in this collection include the downward spiral of a respectable city worker who stumbles upon a large quantity of Cocaine along with the previous owners phone. When this phone rings greed takes over and he realises he has a ready made market for the drugs. Again fuelled by a desire to keep up with the neighbours the downward spiral of the once respectable man, and the affect it has on his family is painful to watch. Linked with this one the next story involves the effects of Cocaine growing on a hardworking Colombian family, as well as how temptation can affect anyone, regardless of their circumstances.

As with all story collections some are better than others, but I really enjoyed this and it's inspired me to read both more short stories and more Matthew Kneale.

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