'The excellence of the collection is fractal: the whole book is excellent, and every story is excellent, and every paragraph is excellent, and every sentence is excellent. And, unlike some literary fiction, it's effortless to read.' - The Independent on Sunday
‘Perhaps the finest of contemporary writers in this form.’ – The Reader
To the woman watching they looked like grace itself, the heart and soul of which is freedom. It pleased her particularly that they were attached by invisible strings to colourful curves of rapidly moving air. How clean and clever that was! You throw up something like a handkerchief, you tether it and by its headlong wish to fly away, you are towed along...
Like the kite-surfers in this opening scene, the characters in David Constantine’s fourth collection are often delicately caught in moments of defiance. Disregarding their age, their family, or the prevailing political winds, they show us a way of marking out a space for resistance and taking an honest delight in it. Witness Alphonse – having broken out of an old people’s home, changed his name, and fled the country – now pedalling down the length of the Rhône, despite knowing he has barely six months to live. Or the clergyman who chooses to spend Christmas Eve – and the last few hours in his job – in a frozen, derelict school, dancing a wild jig with a vagrant called Goat.
Key to these characters’ defiance is the power of fiction, the act of holding real life at arm’s length and simply telling a story – be it of the future they might claim for themselves, or the imagined lives of others. Like them, Constantine’s bewitching, finely-wrought stories give us permission to escape, they allow us to side-step the inexorable traffic of our lives, and beseech us to take possession of the moment.
Born in Salford in 1944, David Constantine worked for thirty years as a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published several volumes of poetry, most recently, Nine Fathom Deep (2009). He is a translator of Hölderlin, Brecht, Goethe, Kleist, Michaux and Jaccottet. In 2003 his translation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Lighter than Air won the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation. His translation of Goethe’sFaust, Part I was published by Penguin in 2005; Part II in April 2009. He is also author of one novel, Davies, and Fields of Fire: A Life of Sir William Hamilton. His three short story collections are Back at the Spike, the highly acclaimed Under the Dam (Comma, 2005), and The Shieling (Comma, 2009), which was shortlisted for the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Constantine’s story ‘Tea at the Midland’ won the BBC National Short Story Award 2010. He lives in Oxford, where he edits Modern Poetry in Translation with his wife Helen.
"FLAWLESS AND UNSETTLING" - Boyd Tonkin, Books of the Year 2005, The Independent.
In the middle of a speech a businessman realises his soul has just left his body. In an Athens marketplace, a jealous lover finds himself staggering through a vision of hell. High in the Alps, a young woman’s body re-appears in the glacier, perfectly preserved, where she fell 50 years before.
Entering Constantine’s stories is like stepping out into a wind of words, a swarm of language. His prose is as fluid as the water that surges and swells through all his landscapes. Yet, against this fluidity, his stories are able to stop time, to freeze-frame each protagonist’s life just at the moment when the past breaks the surface, or when the present - like the dam of the title - collapses under its own weight.
“I started reading these stories quietly, and then became obsessed, read them all fast, and started re-reading them again and again. They are gripping tales, but what is startling is the quality of the writing. Every sentence is both unpredictable and exactly what it should be. Reading them is a series of short shocks of (agreeably envious) pleasure...”
– AS Byatt, Book of the Week, The Guardian
“A superb collection”
– Nicholas Royle, The Independent
“This is a haunting collection filled with delicate clarity. Constantine has a sure grasp of the fear and fragility within his characters.”
– A. L. Kennedy