To begin, I must just say that Jessie Greengrass’ debut short story collection, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, has perhaps the best title which I have ever come across. It had been on my radar for quite some time before I spotted a copy and immediately picked it up, and whilst I was planning to read it on holiday, I simply could not resist reading it a couple of days after it was added to my shelves.
An Account… holds great promise, and as Greengrass was the winner of the Sunday Times‘ Young Writer of the Year Award, I was even more excited to begin. As soon as I started to read, I greatly admired Greengrass’ use of vocabulary, and the way in which she shapes sentences, which is nothing short of beautiful. With each tale here she pulls one in and mesmerises; each act of violence, or point at which a creature is being hunted, or danger befalls the weak, then, comes as a sharp shock, which makes her stories all the more gripping.
There is a fantastic diversity within An Account…; each story leaps between different time periods and places, and whilst deliberately ordered to feel as varied as is possible, there is a marvellous cohesion to the collection. Thematically, there are some similarities; for instance, Greengrass writes quite extensively about exploration and travel, and is clearly intrigued by dystopias. Her use of both nature and wilderness, and the ideas of loneliness and being alone, build a coherence between each story. All of the perspectives which she uses, and voices which she crafts, have been sculpted beautifully and realistically.
One of Greengrass’ real strengths is in capturing emotions. In the story entitled ‘Winter, 2058’, which deals with the aftermath of alien ‘intrusions’, she writes: ‘… there were times when I couldn’t say for certain if it was fear that afflicted me or only the cold creeping into my bed. I became so afraid. At first the fear was nebulous, lacking an object, so that, while it spread like a film across all that I saw, still I couldn’t have said what it was that I feared; but by the end of a week I was afraid of everything, of shadows and empty rooms and of the wind; of darkness and light, silence and noise; of spaces that were empty and those that were full. I was afraid of my hands reflected in the windowpane and my face in the mirror, and of my breath and the sound of my heart. And although I knew that somewhere I had an explanation for this fear, when I tried to recall if my thoughts slipped out from my grasp, spilling and dissolving, leaving only the fear swelling up to fill the space they left behind.’
An Account… is an intelligent and rather wonderful short story collection, from an already distinctive voice within the genre. It does not read at all like a debut; rather, it is incredibly accomplished, and there is not a weak story to be found. An Account… is hard to fault; it is rather an original collection of thought-provoking stories, and her work here makes me very excited to see what she will publish next.