“Mr Spencer’s scones are legendary.”
20 mind-expanding short stories.
Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy: Nothing Is Strange
When I began reading this collection I was more than addicted to Mike Russell’s strange fiction. The title Nothing is Strange caught my attention more than anything because it seemed to contradict everything I had encountered so far since delving into this odd world of peculiar characters.
I thought ‘will these stories be somehow…less strange?‘ and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I shouldn’t have worried, and I put it down to overthinking, because these stories are most definitely still strange. I’m inclined to say don’t judge a book by it’s title, but I feel this happened to be a unique one-off judgement.
The opening story Cream Tea was not what I expected. When I began reading, I imagined the setting in a little vintage tea shop that exists in the town I live in, and this was appropriate because the characters do something similar.
It turns out that Mr Spencer holds the entire world inside of him. They look inside his mouth using a telescope and the see the Earth, the building they are in…and they see themselves. You could easily have an existential crisis just thinking about it!
The second story, The Diaries of Sun City play with the form of a diary, and the entire setting and life of our character is told through his diary entries. Quite early on it reminded me of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
The twist in this story is that each day when our main character returns to his diary he finds that the previous day’s entry has disappeared. Are the words disappearing by themselves? Is there something magical about the ink? Or is someone stealing the pages and reading them? The answer is unexpected, and as ever, surreal!
The third Dunce starts off as though it’s going to be a short, comedic story about someone stupid. But it gets quite deep and explores the act of falling in love, and how meaningful objects can become deadly, and even how love and loss can make even the most simple of characters into an enigma.
These three start you off on a strange journey that just gets better. But even more than its strangeness, this book will shock you in some places. The Miracle is an interesting one for this.
One of my favourites has to be The Meeting. In fact, it’s one of the most unforgettable short stories I’ve ever read, and even though I’m writing this review months after reading it, I still think about this story. It’s one of the more clever ones, and it had my attention on it the whole way through just wanting to know the outcome. It stops you in your tracks.
When you encounter Escape from the Butcher’s Shop be prepared to contemplate your own life and existence. This is probably what I like most about this collection. Each story is so different from the last, yet Russell manages to create lives that only the most vivid imagination would even think to bring into existence. It’s as though we need to be aware of the possibility of these other lives to put our own into perspective.
I’m half convinced Mike Russell knows something we don’t, but I’m glad he is willing to share the strangeness with us.
There are some gems in here, and if I could go through them all I would, but some of them need to be experienced with no warning or introduction. (And by warning I mean you will question everything you know, and your life might seem a tad normal compared to the lives in these stories).
The first half is my favourite, but the star of the second half is The Shining Flower. Even if you get fed up half way through, skip to this story and it will redeem your faith. It’s simply beautiful and everyone needs to read it.
Thank you to StrangeBooks for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review (and apologies it’s taken me so long to write it!)
Link to the book on Goodreads: Nothing is Strange