New Island Books have been busy releasing the anthologies ‘The Glass Shore’ and ‘The Long Gaze Back’ and in their wake is an undiscovered gem of a book and we here at STORGY are extremely excited that we found the wonderful anthology that is ‘Hostages’ by the rather unknown Oisin Fagan (but not for very long according to the STORGY office).
I first stumbled across Oisin Fagan when his wonderfully original, violent and masterful ‘The Hierophants’ won the Penny Dreadful Novella Prize a magazine I have read quite a lot of and highly recommend to those interested in independent fiction.
Oisin Fagan’s ‘Hostages’ was to me such a fantastic read and I hope that this review will inspire you to go out and purchase yourself a copy. It is one of the best anthologies that is coming out of Ireland at this time and I would be as bold as to say Oisin Fagan will become one of the most influential voices coming out of Ireland.
The anthology kicks off with the wonderful ‘Being Born’ which believe me sets us up for where this anthology is going to take you. Normally blowing up a school is a no no but to Oisin Fagan it’s within the realms of possibility. His opening paragraph ‘Kilcock has, and always had, a mad suicide rate. This is probably because of the sad canal, the empty Zed factory, the banal, linear design of the social housing where decentralised Dubliners were mishoused, or it could be a combination of all this; all this superfluous sprawl.’ Ideally sets the tone for the rest of this tale. Oisin comes across as someone who cares deeply for those who are marginalised in society, the small person and gives a voice to their struggles so eloquently in this tale that it is hard not to be moved by its journey and conclusion. A voice of which is ever present throughout his stories within this anthology.
Its hard to read such a raw, crazy, genre bending author as Oisin Fagan without making comparisons and I found myself often thinking of some of the greats HG Wells, William S Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov. Mr Fagan keeps some very good company!
Speaking of HG Wells and Philip K Dick comparisons these come to a head in the fabulous ‘The Sky Over Our Houses’ which showcases the rather science fiction side of this talented writer.
‘Pollen and dust swirled lazily in the beam’s path for the first five meters and then stopped, then the light continued untrammeled and clear for a further ten meters before the dust became visible again, though there his vision became dim and he squinted. Then, directly above them, a square of strong light opened up. Instinctively, Declan grabbed Clara and threw them both out of the light’s path. She yelped in pain as he landed on top of her. There was a dull smacking sound behind them. Declan muffled her mouth with his hand and turned his neck slowly. A scrunched-up corpse in a long black trench coat lay prostrate on the grass directly below the square of light.’
Fagan cuts his own in this realm and for me feels like I am reading a science fiction great but his voice and prose is clearly recognisable and defined showing a very mature voice for someone who in the grand scheme of things is an aspiring writer (this is also as he sees himself – STORGY interview). His skill doesn’t just stop here as he masterfully brings this story to its frenetic, heartfelt conclusion. I would love to write more about this but I’d rather you discover these things yourself – Ross does not give away spoilers!
‘Costellos’ which follows ‘The Sky…’ is one of my personal favourites from this collection. Fagan deploys a different storytelling technique, which you would normally find in those boring dusty books at your local library; which keep the records of families heritage and land ownerships for the last 5oo years. Sounds boring huh? Think again, Fagan delivers a masterstroke here bringing this type of technique out from the dusty shelves of the library and makes it relevant, tasty and interesting for his captive Hostages (the readers of his book)!
‘On 3 December 2039, Aretha Daymon, President of the United States, leans casually on her desk in the Oval Office and on live TV informs the world that not only are they bringing public hanging back to deal with both internal and external threats, but that they are building a wall around their country and bringing down what remains of Europe…’
Fagan shows us here that the culmination and embodiment of the American dream is all to real and is something that was bound to happen. When I spoke to him recently whilst interviewing him for STORGY Magazine; I joked that he could predict the future what with Trump but he informed me that he wrote this story a good three years ago. Following on with this ‘Philip K Dick wrote many version of him in the 50’s and 60’s. He’s been about to happen for a long time, and he has happened already in different versions’.
‘No Diamonds’ for me was a lovely whimsical tale, quite different from the rest of Fagan’s other stories within this collection and it seemed to act as a bridge into the final chapter. The tale seems to deal with the theme of social transformation, overcrowding, struggles of violent family units, mining and the closing of the pits; but here Fagan doesn’t just settle for the normal coal pits he opts for Diamond pits and Tanzanians.
‘At that time there was spates of real strong acid rain coming down, blown in from a forever hurricane that had come in all the way from Beijing Central, and I went down the back one Sunday morning when it had cleared up a bit and all that was left was Dad’s skeleton stripped bare, thin amongst the rusty chains, his bones gleaming white from the acid’
As you can see from the quote above, Oisin Fagan takes what could be a quite heavy and depressing subject and tells it in his own majestic, twisted and masterful way!
The story that closes this wonderful collection of short stories is the damn right crazy ‘The Price of Flowers’ which when reading it was hard not to think of Williams S Burroughs and his mighty work of ‘Naked Lunch’. Oisin Fagan delivers a fabulous story full of iconic, disturbed stomach churning rawness, which is a fitting conclusion to this wonderful anthology by this fabulous writer.
‘When I woke up the room was dark, and I could feel the slime of a blood in my everything, there was a clenching in my chest and a slithering pain in my lower gut and I screamed. I was being crawled through. Then I felt a slick move down my everywhere and a head came out of me, a small silvery head with flat, glistening eyes and my everywhere pushed and a fat salmon fell out of me, flapping in blood. I screamed at what I had birthed, a glistening rainbow thing, beautiful and scared, breathing the dead oxygen of the dry poison.
With a writer of Fagan’s talent whom appears to be writing at a level far above this being his first anthology, I would challenge anyone to read this and not enjoy his dark imagination, fantastic humour and disturbing yarns. We here at STORGY strongly believe that great things are to come from this exciting writer and we watch in anticipation to see where he turns up next either with another anthology or a novel we will be first in line to grab ourselves a copy!
I’ll leave you with the quote from the cover of the book.
‘The best new young writer in Ireland. Darkly funny, dazzlingly smart and ablaze with love and ferocity’ Colin Barrett – author of Young Skins.
Hostages was published by New Island Books on 30 September 2016.
You can purchase a copy of Hostages from Foyles:
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Review by Ross Jeffery
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