M. John Harrison – You Should Come With Me Now (2017) Review

Stories of Ghosts

This new collection features some two dozen short stories and an equal amount of one-page flash-fiction, which could also be called prose poetry. Many of these appeared on Harrison’s blog over the past decade, but he arranged this collection purposefully so that certain themes come to the fore.

For a book of only 260 pages, this collection feels packed! It is like a summary of what Harrison has been up to these past 10-15 years in terms of short stories. 

The subtitle of the collection is “stories of ghosts” (note: not ghost stories), and most of these stories are about people who are in some way imprisoned inside their own lives, or in their own perspective on things from which they cannot escape. People searching for meaning.

After each of these short stories, I wished there was someone next to me with whom I could discuss what it all meant. I wished I could narrate these stories, slowly and out loud, because they are so beautifully written and then ask: what’s your interpretation of this? Is this story really about a town or a shop or a prison, or does Harrison want to convey a feeling, a meaning?

The answer is always yes, the latter. The surface-level fantasy and SF tropes in Harrison’s stories are not there to construct internally-consisted worlds. These are tools for him; tools to create parables, parodies and something darker, deeper. Twisted perspectives of other people twist the material world. You start out reading a story set in the normal world, and then the uncanny begins to interfere. Call it new weird fiction, slipstream fiction or magical realism; it is all fluid, just like Harrison’s stories.

So many of these stories feel sad. So often they are about broken human connections, or things that could have made sense if only the world worked differently. Lives that go slightly off the rails. People who try to maintain their self-respect in the tragedy of the mundane.

Sometimes the meaning behind a story stays frustratingly opaque. Sometimes it is the financial crisis recast as an alien invasion. Sometimes a final sentence gives a clue and sometimes I’m not even sure that Harrison himself had a clear picture in mind. As he says in an interview: “Now I just write about people who don’t quite know who or what they are, in circumstances which aren’t all that clear. What comes out of that is less “ambiguity” than the narratives of people who don’t quite know who or what they are, in circumstances which aren’t all that clear.” Much as in real life. The creation of meaning takes place in a transaction between writer and reader.

That is not to say that this is in any way lazy or lacking emotional impact. Harrison’s prose is highly polished, where every word counts for the right impact. He describes moods and moments in life that are recognisable, but which I have hardly or never seen in text. (Maybe I read the wrong books.) The point is, he uses all his skill to write exactly what he wants, even if it is all a bit open to interpretation.

The flash fiction didn’t give me much to work with for the “creation of meaning” and had little impact on me. In general, the longer the story, the more I enjoyed it.

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7 Responses to M. John Harrison – You Should Come With Me Now (2017) Review

  1. bormgans says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope more people will be convinced to read this, the prose is so good.

    I agree that it kinda feels lonely reading these stories, they should be discussed indeed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bormgans says:

    I still need to read 2, but the his new one came out.

    Like

  3. Wakizashi says:

    This has been on my tbr pile for a while. I must get to it this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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