Do you ever feel like the fates are telling you to read a certain author? I ask because a few weeks ago I felt I was bombarded with subliminal, well not so subliminal that I didn’t notice them, messages that I should read Ewan Morrison. One was a conversation with a friend about a new-to-them author called Ewan Morrison who I really should read, a few days later an advance copy of ‘Close Your Eyes’ by Ewan Morrison (with the quote ‘If Ewan Morrison was a woman, Close Your Eyes would be destined for the shortlist’) popped through the door. Then at a meeting with Waterstones Deansgate I was asked if I would like to host an evening of the literary salon ‘Bad Language’ with guess who as the headline act… Ewan Morrison. (It is on tonight.) I took the hint and so soon enough ‘Tales from the Mall’, the book he will be discussing, arrived. Having read it I am thrilled everyone was ‘book pushing’ Ewan Morrison on me as it is something quite quirky, different and rather brilliant.
The title of ‘Tales from the Mall’ sort of sums up just what this book is about, well, I should highlight the sort of. This is not your conventional collection of short stories as with ‘Tales from the Mall’ Ewan Morrison gives his readers a mixture of short fictions, historical facts and the retelling of stories from real people, what these all have in common is they centre on the cultural phenomenon of malls (or shopping precincts as some people might call them) and the people who work in them and frequent them.
I really enjoyed how the book worked with this mixture of the real and the fictional. One minute you might be reading the fictional tale of women threatening to kill other women over a pair of shoes, separated families using the mall as a ‘middle ground’, etc, then you find yourself learning about the history of malls and how they came to be, then you will read Morrison’s retell, almost journalistic and fictional, a member of staff’s stories of cross dressers in the car parks or attempted suicides. There are also pictures thrown in along the way too and it all comes together to make the fictional seem real and the factual seem rather surreal. They say real life can be stranger than fiction don’t they? It all merges into a wonderful blend.
I had an inkling that I would like the short stories because of the subject matter; I didn’t expect them to be quite as affecting as they were. In each short story I found myself getting full immersed in each of the characters worlds. ‘Redacted’ is a short story, though I enjoyed every single one, is a short story that will really stay with me for a very long time because of the way it twisted and turned and I followed its narrator feeling everything he felt. I am being a bit cloak and dagger as I wouldn’t want to spoil it and with short stories you can invariably end up writing something as long as the story you want everyone to read.
On top of Morrison’s brilliantly written tales you also get these facts and ‘true life tales’. I was fascinated throughout. Who knew I would be interested in why malls ended up where they did, what ‘The Gruen Transfer’ was and why they are the shapes that they are… but I did. I also found the retold tales of staff throughout these malls (from both the UK and America) really fascinating. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t want to know all the bonkers and bizarre things that real people actually do and get up to. It’s like being in the CCTV room yourself, and if you are as nosey and fascinated by other humans behaviour as I am it proves an absolute treat. My only slight quibble is the lay out. I loved the idea of a map, like a mall, at the front (as shown above) and all the pictures but sometimes it seems quite crammed and I started to get an occasional sense of information overload. But then that’s like a mall isn’t it? And I don’t think this book is designed to be read in one greedy gulp, though I sort of wanted to because of its bite size nature. I know that’s nothing to do with Morrison’s writing but I had to mention it.
‘Tales from the Mall’ is a quirky and rather unusual read but all the better for it. The way that fiction, facts and real people’s real stories retold merge creates this wonderful mix of the real and surreal and captures humans and the way that they behave. I haven’t encountered a book that does this in quite this way before. It’s fascinating, funny (often darkly) and at times really affecting. I am really glad that people pushed me in the direction of Ewan Morrison, now I am hopefully going to be pushing him on you.
Have you read any of Ewan Morrison’s other books? I had ‘Menage’ once but discovered it was the third in a trilogy so didn’t read it, oops. As I mentioned I have ‘Close Your Eyes’ on the TBR and I will be reading that very soon. I also wondered if any of you have read other collections that merge fiction, facts and true tales. I would love to read more books that do this, so please let me know of any recommendations.