Saturday, 7 October 2017

Worlds from the Word's End by Joanna Walsh   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Language is the expression of intention, but to what extent does this intention spring from the utterer and to what extent does it inhere in language itself? (While we’re at it, we could (but will not) consider the extent to which the intentions inherent in the reader affect what is read or those in the hearer what is heard). The stories of Joanna Walsh’s latest collection are of such lightness that they ride the subtlest of semantic breezes and are carried to destinations implied in language that heavier material will not reach, falling from its vector under its own weight. Like those of Italo Calvino (who also saw lightness as a virtue), Walsh’s brief, crystalline stories imply more than they can objectively said to contain, even though they have objective rigour in their extrapolation of potential from scientifically isolated material, often linguistic anomalies that we had not thought of as linguistic anomalies, idiomatic remarks or the quirk of a turn of phrase to which we have been blinded by familiarity. Any of these stories could be subjected to an analysis that would exceed the length of the story. Walsh compulsively (for compulsively read scientifically) speculates upon the nature of lives in which an impulse becomes permanent or a tendency is liberated from the factors that ultimately, or immediately, ordinarily negate it. Would would it be like if words literally failed? What would it be like if waiting in a railway station was never ended by the appearance of the person waited for? What if a young girl really did kidnap the gangster Enzo Ponza and end up having him about the house forever after (“to challenge him would be to acknowledge his existence”)? Each narrator is indigenous to their story, and we are engaged in realigning our perceptions to match theirs, without the author performing the indignity of forcing the opposite upon them (a fairly usual narratorial method). In each, Walsh conducts a delicate interplay between detail and meaning, neither overwhelming the other which it embodies or which embodies it. Strangely familiar existences spring from language itself. “I am walked but, also, I am walking. Wait. What if I walked without being walked. Where would I (who would I) walk?” In ‘The Suitcase Dog’, Walsh not only imagines the language that would be used by a dog to distill its experiences of the world and of itself, but, at another step of remove, the language that would be used by a suitcase imagining itself to be a dog using the language that would be used by a dog, but contained within the fairly limited imaginative projections of a suitcase. Which sounds more complicated than it reads. It is Walsh’s ability to nuance the simplest of sentences that allows her/them to give access to the subtlest of observations and the narrowest (as in precisest) of perspectives. These brief paragraphs waft meaning that they can hardly be said to contain, but there is nothing vague or tentative in that wafting. In each, the reader’s reading faculties are sharpened in “thinking about the story - which is always to be thinking about thinking about the story.”

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