Fragmented Reviewed

by Jeremy Worman
Publisher: Cinnamon Press
Review: Grace Read

I almost gave up on this book of short stories. I found them to be lack lustre and without a distinct flare for words. There wasn’t any crafting of the sentences or the ideas. So my initial intrigue at the plain observational style of writing soon wore off as I became desperate for a spark.

Then, finally, I found the defining feature I was looking for. In the 15th (15th!) story. Finally, a narrative style that was infused with some playfulness. And this gave me the impetus to persevere with the rest of the collection. Although Worman’s style returned to observational, matter of fact description after the joyous 15th story, I was keen to read on to find the next gem.

The collection as a whole is obscure, fleetful and intensely introspective. I was unsettled by the (seemingly) entirely autobiographical content of the stories and the decision to call the narrator Simon. Is changing your name the difference between non-fiction and fiction? It seemed like a daft choice to me, and made the reading experience uneasy: it feels like a memoir, but it isn’t. Or is it?

I tend to enjoy the social aspect of stories – the characters, the interactions, the subtleties of communication. And this aspect was noticeably missing in large parts of Fragmented, it being so 2D and self-focussed. Often, the other characters Simon meets aren’t even given names, only descriptions like ‘a skinny, young Asian’ and ‘a one-legged man’. This makes their presence light and realistic (after all, we don’t know the names of the people we pass every day). However, as Simon seems to observe more than converse, these myriad characters have little impact on him and his journey through life. Even the stories involving close friends, romance and heated discussion don’t seem to affect Simon. In fact, the story telling of his neighbour’s suicide is distinctly emotionless. Oddly distant for a memoir-style collection of stories.

Perhaps Fragmented is more a ‘memoir’ of grander social change over time, rather than personal development and relationships. The stories are written in a socio-political context (consider all the global change the world has experienced from 1960 to now) and Simon finds his place in these contexts as a squatter, a teacher, a bachelor and a father. Simon is a product of the eras he lives through. An emotionally detached narrative style allows this interplay between man and society to come to the foreground.

What Simon lacks in empathy is almost redeemed by his responsiveness to the combination of the weather and his physical surroundings. Many of the stories begin with a description of the time of year, cloud cover and location, shortly followed by how this makes him feel. For example; ‘It is a February morning and I sit overlooking the Thames in the South Bank Poetry Library. The river, the sky, the dull hue of the buildings pull me towards a London melancholy.’ And, through this recurring pattern, we learn that sunshine makes Simon feel happy, while cloud, rain and wind provoke lower moods and more sombre reflection.

Let me tell you that Fragmented is worth persevering with if only for the two final stories. It is worth ploughing through the dry, mundane accounts of daily life to discover the gripping, personal, emotive and fantastical closing fragments. They blew me away and left me wondering ‘Why couldn’t the whole collection be this brilliant?’ There is an ethereal quality about them that inspired awe in me. I was shocked and relieved to end this collection on such an outstanding note.

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