LONDON GOTHIC by Nicholas Royle

London Gothic is Nicholas Royle’s fourth collection of short stories, published by Confingo Publishing. It contains 15 stories, covering a period between 2000 – 2020, and includes seven original tales.

I first came across the fiction of Nicholas Royle in 1988, after reading The Dandelion Woman in the debut issue of Fear magazine. He’s a very clever writer, in that he manages to make his stories amusing as well as deeply unsettling, hinting at far more than his words actually say. This process of suggestion sometimes also requires the reader to bring something to the story, adding to the sense of involvement and disorientation. There’s a dreamlike quality to the prose, with a clever use of repetition, of overlapping strands or converged characters. In a Nicholas Royle story, nothing is as it seems. His misdirection and carefully layered writing deserves attention, because the accumulation of seemingly innocent phrases can suddenly take on new meaning, often in a startling fashion.

Unsurprisingly these stories are set in London, however there’s a contemporary feel to them, pushing back against the gothic aspect of the book’s title. They often deal with subjects like film, art and literature, sometimes mocking characteristics of modern city life, such as gentrification and pretentiousness. There’s an unsettling undercurrent to the stories. Many of the characters are disturbed individuals, often haunted by emotional spectres from their past. As with reading anything by Nicholas Royle I always come away from the book with a list of notes, references to particular aspects of cultural mentions, which sometimes serve as touchstones to the story; obscure coincidences or precisely described details which dovetail into the narrative. Several of the pieces are experimental in form, but always effective. Particular favourite stories from this collection were L NDON, Trompe l’oeil, Standard Gauge, Train, Night, Artefact, Guys, L0ND0N and The Vote. According to the publishers, Royle is also planning on projects devoted to Manchester and Paris. I, for one, can hardly wait. As it’s one of the best short story collections I’ve read in years, this one comes highly recommended.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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