Thursday, 13 August 2015

'Fortune Smiles' - short stories by Adam Johnson

I hadn't read any of Adam Johnson's previous work, but his Pulitzer-winning The Orphan Master's Son, set in North Korea, has long been on my list. I was given a copy of Fortune Smiles, his new short story collection, and devoured it across a couple of long train journeys.

It's brilliant and unsettling - each of the six stories plunges the reader so artfully into a new and intricately-structured world that it feels sad when we abruptly leave them, having become so quickly and briefly invested in the characters and their impossible plights.

My favourite was George Orwell Was A Friend of Mine, in which a former Stasi prison guard is forced to reconsider his role in the regime when a series of his own missing belongings start turning up on his doorstep. Either seriously in denial or seriously misled about his duties in the jail, he is suddenly thrust back inside the 'house of horrors' he meticulously ran for years.

With echoes of novel by David Mitchell, the stories don't quite overlap but present the unnerving feeling that they are somehow linked or set in the same world -  I kept waiting for someone from a previous story to turn up three stories later. Saying that, two of the stories are linked in a clever and satisfying way, and the mind-bending opening tale - Nirvana - could easily take place five years into any of our futures.

I loved this book. I've downloaded The Orphan Master's Son and hope Johnson has more short stories up his sleeve.

Fortune Smiles is out on 18th August.

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