While it’s catchy, the story that gives Jessie Greengrass’s debut collection its title, An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It isn’t really about great auks and their decline. Neither is the title fad-following or trying to be quirky when it’s not. Actually it captures a lot of what follows: a voice unfamiliar with addressing an audience; inadvertent comedy; bleakness. It’s a tale that leaks sadness the more it goes on and yet all the while, as the number of birds steadily falls it remains difficult to feel sorry for them. As difficult as it is to maintain a sense of eye contact with our narrator because deep down we both know… And then there it is in the close.
That sense of bleakness, of isolation and anaesthesia infects the whole collection so that the idea of a happy ending seems more illogical than unachievable. And yet, in The Comfort Of The Dead and Scropton, Sudbury, Marchington, Uttoxeter, there is a sense of something approaching that – at least a sense of a circle squared.
If all this gives you the jitters fear not. As with all good short stories, Jessie’s collection is apt to make you think and feel. What ultimately comes through is that we are seeing, perhaps even confronting aspects of ourselves that may well be latent but are most assuredly inherent.
On the first reading my favourite story is Winter 2058. It’s the fifth story in the collection and at first feels like a step-change. The opening is more familiar in its approach, less internalised than the voices of the previous stories, and then the growing sense that this one might be something akin to science fiction. It utterly sucked me in. Of course good science fiction, like any other genre, is still about who we are and how we live. Winter 2058 is no different. What I enjoyed most about this story is the way the tension builds. What’s revealed about what’s going on and what isn’t, and the overriding sense of unease by the time I reached the last word. Read it on a train and then look around the carriage at all the other passengers…
An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It isn’t a light-hearted, feel-good read. Albeit it’s not a long collection (I read it in a few hours and I’m a sow reader) it will make you think, and it’ll leave you time to go back and look again. We should all make time for a short story collection and for my part, Jessie Greengrass’s debut is well worth making the time for.
An Account Of the Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It was published by JM Originals in 2015 and comes out in paperback on 23rd March 2017 ISBN:9781473652040
You can find Jessie on Twitter @JessGreengrass
My thanks to Ruby Mitchell at Hodder for allowing me to review this book.