Secret Language

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve read the occasional short story by Neil Williamson in various anthologies over the years but never a collection of his own. Williamson’s style is quite dense and literary, I found I had to read the book quite slowly, taking just one or two stories at a time, otherwise it just got a bit blurry.

The major themes in the book are music and Scotland. He draws on the distinctiveness of Scots and Scotland to set up character portraits and story resonance without needing to go into great detail. And music is present in many of these stories in some shape or other, from the way the system dealt with Punk in Arrhythmia to the the very essence of what art is and if how it should be produced and consumed in The Death of Abigail Goudy, a piece which, it seems to me (and from the author’s afterword) came from very deep inside the author.

My favourite piece was probably the most science fictional story in the collection, Lost Sheep, a space opera set in the deep future, yet still coming back to the perennial theme of making and showing art.

It’s not what I would call a cheerful book, there’s a sense of melancholy running through it, even the stories that don’t directly have sad endings leave you with a sense of unease that things are probably going to get worse. There is a streak of dark humour running through it that stops it getting too miserable though.

So a book to dip into for me, rather than to swallow down. I can appreciate the quality of Williamson’s writing but he’s not an author that I’d want to read a lot of in quick succession.

Book details

ISBN: 9781910935149
Publisher: Newcon Press

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