Whenever anyone produces blurb about books, they always seem to concentrate on the front of the book, even sometimes arranging a ‘peep’ into the opening pages. For short story books, this always encourages the suspicion that the weaker stuff is consigned to the back, for readers to tolerate when they’ve made the way through the good ones at the front.
For ‘Roxanne Riding Hood and Other Dubious Tales’, I would claim that this is one short story book which bucks the trend, with the stories at the back generally matching up to the stories at the front. Maybe there is some ideal way of working out what order to put the stories in, but if they are all to a similar standard, it’s difficult to see what it might be.
So for once, let’s have a peek at the book’s rear, if that’s not too indelicate a way to put it. The story chosen to end the collection is called ‘Fait Accompli’, the ‘fait’ bit being a pun on the word fete, as in what many primary schools go for in the summer. This tale follows the heroic efforts of a school’s head teacher, Mrs. Pearson, to hold the big day together in the teeth of tensions amongst her staff and between the staff and the parents, as well as some kids who tend to either over-enthusiasm or downright wickedness. ‘Joey Phillips and David Willis had somehow got access to materials on the face painting stall and were prancing about like something out of Lord of the Flies’.
Next to last is ‘Downsizing Graham’, in which Chief Executive Mr. Howard Belton, a comfortably built little man with a liking for management-speak, decides it is time to get rid of his Head of Security, Graham Foster, a taciturn tall ex-military man not to Mr. Belton’s taste, who had a ‘challenging manner of address which the CE often found prejudicial to successful collegiate discourse’. However, Mr. Belton has somewhat underestimated Mr. Foster’s efficiency in information gathering.
The third one in is ‘The Art of Hearing’, in which the ambassador to Britain of an African country is to accompany his visiting president, an old school friend, on a state visit, and has responsibility for translating when the President makes a visit to a restaurant run by up and coming Scouse chef Robbie Marsden. The President doesn’t take too kindly either to Robbie – ‘good God, Jawara, he looks like a drug dealer. This guy can cook?’ – or to his cuisine – ‘baby meat; silly little squawking birds. I’m a grown man. I need real meat’.
The ambassador’s creative methods of translation save the day, both for Marsden and his distinguished guest. Having now looked at the beginning and the end of the collection, next time we will examine what’s going on in the middle.