Filler content with bedlam

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #26:-

Alan Wall
Vintage, £6.99

Alan Wall, to judge by the fifteen stories in this collection, is one of those writers who defy easy categorisation. Take the novella ‘A to Z’ which leads off as an example. A policeman is brought out of semi-retirement to investigate a murder, the first in a series with apocalyptic links. It’s an engrossing story, erudite and compelling, but whether you list it as horror, crime or mainstream is a matter of personal bias. And, just to complicate matters, towards the end Wall reveals that the story is set in the future, a society where they do things differently.

Let’s pass on the name game then and instead look for common concerns and points of reference. There are plenty to be found.

As with ‘A to Z’, the Biblical is always an option. ‘The Eating of the Shadow’ concerns an alternative gospel, while the delightfully mocking ‘The Pig Man of Gadara’ tells the story of Christ’s healing of the Gadarene demoniac from the point of view of the man who owned the pigs into which the unclean spirits were banished. Old age and impending death also feature prominently, most obviously in the title story and ‘Rembrandt Dying’, while the art world itself is another recurring concern, at its best in ‘A Compass in the Dark’, which illuminates artistic preoccupations in the clash of ideas between a failed traditional painter and his friend, a highly successful modernist. Unusual mind sets come to the fore in stories such as ‘Logical Positivists’, about a man who tries to live by Wittgenstein’s principles, the chilling ‘Cult’ which peeps inside the head of a David Koresh type character, and ‘Underneath the Smile’, a wonderfully droll send up of all those self-help manuals and courses.

Wall’s stories then are an eclectic bunch, wide ranging and varied, packed with novel ideas and executed with panache. What they sometimes lack in emotional depth they more than make up for with intelligence and ready wit. Recommended.

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