Pick ‘n’ Mix
Forgive the cliché – good practice for when (or should that be if?) you choose to delve into Tobsha Learner’s trilogy – but Quiver, Tremble and Yearn are something of a rollercoaster.
The movement of her heavy pencil as it sweeps across the graph of her building suddenly holds the promise of a penis.
Then there are the unexpected narrative twists which hint at a gift for storytelling. It’s a mixed bag.
Characters range from one-dimensional to almost credible, but their stories are on the whole imaginatively told. Reading The Woman Who Was Tied Up (ouch), you are tossed (and there’s a fair bit of tossing in this one) between narrative points of view: from dominant sexual partner, relishing his power; to voyeuristic building-site manager getting off on the spectacle; and back. It’s titillating stuff. Quiver is undoubtedly my favourite collection.
Tremble houses the slow burners, stories which require greater investment from the reader. Learner dabbles in the supernatural, with mixed results. Salman Rushdie it ain’t.
As for the final instalment, it’s billed as being a sensuous collection that will make you Yearn. Yawn, rather, if the opening story ‘Ink’ is anything to go by. Persevere though, and you’ll be rewarded with Barrow Boy, an oddly gripping tale of social differences and nostalgia for lost love. Did I mention it was a mixed bag?
Learner’s prose is laboured at times, positively tortured at others, but there’s no denying she writes with imagination. It’s easy to dismiss this rebranded trilogy as just another manifestation of the frenzy currently gripping the publishing world, but I think it’s better than that. Subtle and accurate these books are not (there’s a certain irony to Barrow Boy’s creator thinking Oxford University doesn’t boast a Trinity College); but they have other qualities, if you pick the right story.
Quiver by Tobsha Learner. Published in paperback by Piatkus £7.99