4 out of 4 stars
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I must confess that short stories aren't my usual cup of tea. I like to delve into a plot and get lost in it, something best accomplished in lengthier works. I have been, therefore, pleasantly surprised to read such a charming collection of tales in That Guy What Kill Topsy by Peter Wood Cotterill. Written in impeccable English, with a great sense of irony, and a style reminiscent of the best authors of the 20th Century, I cannot but rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
The sixteen short stories and one novella leave behind a bittersweet flavor that is hard to ignore. Most of the characters are in trouble, have suffered financial setbacks, or want to change their lives somehow. All of them are basically loners with little interest in their fellow human beings. The leit motif is how easily communication can break down, particularly between family members. It's especially painful to realize that two sisters won't speak to one another unless there’s some sort of crisis, or that a daughter is so cut off from her father that she doesn't even suspect he has suicidal tendencies. These are just a few examples, but each narrative has this failure to communicate etched in every line, which is the most forlorn and lingering aspect of this book. Luckily, though, the last yarn is somewhat different, so no wonder it's my favorite. A tender and juicy bit of writing, it is a pearl that has reconciled me a little with the melancholy and loneliness induced by the other stories. Safe to say, I won't easily forget it.
Mr. Cotterill describes the various situations with a lightheartedness and a sparkle that I find very refreshing. His polished and compelling style draws in readers effortlessly. His irony and verve keep them reading at full speed.
What I most appreciate is his sense of timelessness. Even though most tales take place in today's world, they could all have just as easily happened in the 60's. I honestly can’t tell if events are set in the present or in the past, so I have often had to rely on the mention of modern trappings like phones or televisions in order to establish the correct timeframe. This sensation is palpable in most stories, but it's inescapable when encountering Pussy Galore, who is a most famous Bond girl of the 1965 motion picture Goldfinger. The narration about Zimbabwe, or ex Rhodesia, is also based in the 60's, since it provides the full taste of those faraway colonial days, when Africa was still a world of possibilities for clever, young men. This brings me back to my Nigerian roots, the place where I grew up, so I thank Mr. Cotterill for the unexpected plunge into memory lane.
The writing style also contributes to the illusion of reading an author from the last century. Not just any author, Mr. Cotterill reminds me of Evelyn Waugh at his best, with that easy-going conversation, the slightly snobbish air, and the condescension toward anything not British.
I definitely recommend this book to all lovers of short stories, but also to anyone wanting to approach this genre for the first time!
That Guy What Kill Topsy
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