(TTA Press, 96pp, £6.00)
I love the novella as a form. Actually, I think I just love good fiction as an art form, and in many ways the novella simply encapsulates my own particular tastes. There’s the extra room to manoeuvre of a novel, but still the tight and refined sense of attentive purpose which so draws me to short stories.
But I get ahead of myself.
Nina Allan’s “Spin” is the second of TTA’s new series of novellas — the astute amongst you will remember that I also reviewed the first; “Eyepennies” by Mike O’Driscoll. “Spin” is set in a strange version of Greece, which seems recognisable, but strays in distinct ways into a fantastically strange world.
Layla, the daughter of dye magnate, leaves home to make her own life and find success as a weaver. But, with the death of her mother — executed for “clairvoyancy” crimes — hanging over her, she struggles to escape the uncomfortable touch of destiny.
There are layers of meaning hidden within this story — hidden to a depth that I don’t seriously believe that I have understood them all. One, on the very edge of my periphery, is a heavy influence of the classical myth of Arachne. But as I said, I know very little about that.
I did, however, still enjoy the story in its own rights.
Allan has created a palpable sense of location here. The prose drips with a hot Mediterranean sweat which gives the whole story a sense of slow and exotic weariness, a real palpable sense of both the weather and the lingering sense of oppression. Layla is very much a woman trapped; by her parentage, by the expectations of the people she meets, and by her own gift for embroidery.
So too the characters hum with a vitality of their own. Layla leads the charge, with an achingly sympathetic urge for freedom and independence — ultimately the architect of a peculiar kind of arrogance which forms her downfall. But behind her is a rich and fascinating cast. Bit parts, mostly, but they all feel complete and whole. Like we are simply passing through their stories, and that greater of them remains untold — but that is a different tale.
Of course, the flipside of such an abstract tone is that it requires closer attention. Twisting avenues of plot and description will see the unfocused reader lost and turned around. Several times I had to re-read passages simply because their labyrinthine complexity had confused me.
But to call this anything but excellent would be a lie. I loved it because it excited me, and I found myself so easily consumed by it. With beautiful settings and compelling characters, Allan writes a subtle smudging of real-world lines, blurring fantasy and reality into a heady and intoxicating cocktail.