Joseph Smith - Finally My Ambulance (2 stars)

Joseph Smith - Finally My Ambulance

Smith's short story 'album' is pretentious, mannered and deeply disappointing

(Jonathan Cape)

A central conceit in Joseph Smith’s first two novels - The Wolf and Taurus - is that they’re told from the point of view of their titular animals. In this new collection - pretentiously described as an 'album' for some reason - only one of Smith’s tales has a tail, though it’s by far the most effective; for once, the conceptual dissonance between the base animal (on this occasion, a trap-avoiding crocodile) and Smith’s magniloquent prose actively makes it easier to suspend your disbelief about the whole thing.

For the most part, though, Smith’s mannered writing, and the excessive second-by-second self-reflection of his human characters - which is made all the worse by an excessive authorial penchant for the present tense - means that the majority of these stories come across as portentous and colourless.

Worse, despite the professed variety of his central characters - in terms of age, gender, background and historical situation - the actual monotony of their self-absorption only highlights how these are clearly stories designed more for literary deconstruction rather than any reader’s simple enjoyment or enlightenment. Deeply disappointing.

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