“Distinct stories that resonate, disturb, shock and confound…” You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts — Reviewed


It has taken 17 years for the award-winning author, M. John Harrison, to complete his latest book of short stories. Mike Pinnington finds unsettling and time-relevant tales that seamlessly span speculative fiction, fantasy and satire…

With the coming to power of Trump, the ongoing European debacle, and fringe parties (lunatic and otherwise) gaining traction in various elections across the world, there’s a throwaway line of thinking currently doing the rounds. It asks, more or less, that when reality is this strange and disorientating, how can fiction possibly compete?

In our current context, it is of course unsurprising that this so-called “new normal”, in which a “previously unfamiliar or atypical situation has become standard, usual, or expected” throws up such questions. But then, thankfully, you pick up a book that swiftly makes a nonsense of these spurious-feeling suggestions.

“Across little more than 250 pages, Harrison weaves a world from mostly distinct stories that resonate, disturb, shock and confound”

Published by Manchester-based indie Comma Press, M. John Harrison’s You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts is just such a book. Across little more than 250 pages, Harrison weaves a world from mostly distinct stories that resonate, disturb, shock and confound. There isn’t a dud among them, but some in particular stand out. The collection’s opener, Lost & Found, for instance. It is less than a page in length, but has stayed with me – and I’ve been moved to reread it a number of times now. The story, about the titular shop that always seems to be closed, amounts to barely more than 200 words – not one of which is wasted. In listing sundry items – “Some cabinets”; “tens of thousands of abandoned paperbacks”; “stones off a beach” – that have been lost or discarded, it evokes other lives that were not previously known to us.

You Should Come With Me Now:Stories of Ghosts, Comma Press

One of the collection’s longer stories, Jack of Mercy’s, speaks directly to numerous issues pertinent to our times. Its narrative covers refugees, and artists, who “retreat from gentrification which began five years ago … and now spreads … like mould on bread”. It also speaks of keeping knowledge from outsiders. “Outsiders!” the narrative exclaims; “As if any of us belong here.” Which brings us neatly to an island on which a number of the stories are set. Called Autotelia (I suppose from the word autotelic, which means, roughly, having an end or purpose in itself), the island narratives conjure a world not quite in touching distance of ours. It variously recalls and evokes everything from Camus’ 1942 novel L’Étranger – can it be a mistake that outsiders and strangers loom large? – to ‎Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s fine 2015 film Evolution (itself set on a strange island), with a pinch of Passport to Pimlico (1949) thrown in for good measure. It’s a wonderful, terrible, surreal and bureaucratic place. Like the Hotel California, one suspects Autotelia is somewhat difficult to ever truly leave.

“In the end your brain stops wondering whether the next one will be speculative fiction, fantasy, satire – or all of these things at once”

At this point you may have already guessed that during the course of the book, Harrison employs various genres to tell his unsettling tales. In the end your brain stops wondering whether the next one will be speculative fiction, fantasy, satire – or all of these things at once. Somehow the approach is seamless and binds the book as well as the usual paper, adhesive and thread might. Referring to Harrison’s blog sheds some light on this coherence: “[You Should Come With Me Now has been] organised to bring out the themes the way a novel might. Yes they are short stories, but yes the book is a thing in itself.” Finally, these absolutely feel like stories of and for our times.

Harrison – now 72 – has been working steadily on the book from 2001, a period taking in a global financial crisis in which the known perpetrators got off largely scot-free, tumultuous and traumatic movements of people, and near unfathomable political machinations. So, they are stories written by an angry old man in response to times in which, for a privileged few at least, the rules don’t apply. Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle on and must try and make sense of it all. It is apt to think about this in terms of a response to political crises and societal inequalities. All of which is enough to make you want to bury your head in a good book. I have one I can recommend.

Mike Pinnington

You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts is out now on Comma Press, online price £9

Harrison will be in conversation on Thursday 25 January 2018 (doors 6pm, for a 6.30pm start) at DINA, Sheffield, with physicist Professor Richard Jones, author of Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life and Against Transhumanism: The Delusion of Technological Transcendence. Expect discussion of everything from science fiction and singularities, to quarries and climbing — FREE event but booking required

Read more on the M. John Harrison blog

Images from top: Tim Etchells (L) reveals his new artwork to M. John Harrison (R), named after the author’s new book and unveiled at its December 2017 book launch at Vout-O-Reenees, London. Image credit Hugo Glendinning, courtesy the artist’s website

Posted on 14/01/2018 by thedoublenegative