BOOK REVIEW: Fog Lane by Neil Campbell

If you’ve ever thought your memory was getting a little foggy, it’s about to get a whole lot more so. Fog Lane is a collection of, in author Neil Campbell’s words, ‘stories about memory’, or lack of it. According to his introduction, Campbell personally dislikes the term ‘flash fiction’. However, having read this collection, I’d describe it as ‘flash fiction’ simply because it’s a label most people would find relatable. These stories might be short, but they’re sharp. I wouldn’t dare describe Campbell’s writing as simple. The author does a lot with a little and, on multiple occasions, this pays off.

The longest story in this collection spans over about three pages. Other than that, the tales average at about a page and a half. Like anything in this world, things aren’t always as they appear on first glance. There are some weird stories in this collection. In fact, those that appear the most normal and straightforward turn out to be some of the oddest. I’d put Campbell somewhere between Murakami and Raymond Carver. Although I wouldn’t say he quite reaches either of their levels, the style of Fog Lane reminded me of both geniuses.

‘Blaine had been on the booze and his whole face felt red from both that and sitting in the garden all afternoon.’

If I had to choose a favourite story from the collection, I’d go with “Viewings Available”, which captures the impressions of a young couple visiting a property to potentially purchase. Why is it my favourite? For starters, it’s one of the few stories in the collection with dialogue, which I found refreshing after pages of straight description. Not that the dialogue helps explain the ending at all. In fact, the tale couldn’t be more ambiguous, which is exactly why I love it.

‘There were midges around the river and I thought that if I lived there I would never open a window. But the light on the ripples of the river had something nice about it, and there was a dipper down there.’

Another story that stood out to me was “The Face”, which opens with a man who sees a woman on the bus, and proceeds to find her on Facebook. After arranging to meet for a drink and being stood up by her, it turns out that the woman doesn’t exist at all. Intrigue, mystery, and confusion all rolled into one. To name drop a couple more, “Class”, “The Angel of the Bridge”, and “The Flight of the Condor” also made me think and question without providing any concrete answers.

‘We didn’t talk because we didn’t have to.’

 In a collection of forty-two stories, not all will be memorable. Without meaning to sound harsh, there are probably only a handful of stories which stood out to me throughout the entirety of Fog Lane. The rest got lost somewhere in a crowd of business suits and musky aftershave. The good news is, the stories that did stand out to me are worth remembering. They are the people with mismatched patterns and unique perfume. The people I want to talk to and get to know inside out.

‘There’s a curve of the river down near the golf course where, on a warm summer evening, all the trivialities of the suburbs disappear beneath the surface of sunlight sparkling on water.’

If you’re looking for a collection with epic character development and action plots, Fog Lane isn’t for you. Although some names appear in multiple stories, Campbell isn’t trying to flesh out any of the characters to make them three dimensional or even relatable. As he says in his introduction, ‘plot is secondary’ so, if you find lack of plot frustrating, I wouldn’t recommend this collection. However, if you’re into symbolism, metaphors, and searching for the hidden meaning, give this a whirl. Although it might drive you crazy at times, you’ll find yourself hooked.

‘He was standing there, also backlit by the sun, the man I should have married, flicking out his hair so that it seemed suffused with flame.’

Some people do crosswords to challenge their brains. Others engage in a bit of Sudoku. Now that I’ve finished this collection, it’s fair to say that Fog Lane is a bit of a brain game. The difference with Campbell’s collection is that there aren’t any answers in the back of the book. There’s no room for cheating here. Challenge yourself. It’s good for you.

Neil Campbell

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Neil Campbell has appeared three times in Best British Short Stories. He has four collections of short fiction and two poetry chapbooks published. His first novel Sky Hooks came out in 2016. The sequel, Zero Hours comes out in April.

 

Fog Lane is available for purchase here.

 Reviewed by Alice Kouzmenko

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