Daring. Intense. A culinary explosion. The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes serves twelve short stories, each course challenging the reader’s taste buds; each dish unique, demonstrating the high standard of the cooking – spiced up by a chef who chooses his ingredients with care and expertise.
Errors are an integral part of life. Ashley Stokes is well aware of it. His characters, their lives distorted by the historical context the author places them in, struggle against themselves, against others, against unemployment, violence, and death – and take wrong decisions in a society that does not leave them a choice. Berlin – one of the cities the author focuses on – becomes a character itself, an integral setting in interaction with the people involved.
An actor, a spy, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, what do they have in common? There is an underlying melancholy, the certainty that all these people will lose the fight against the vagaries of everyday life. Man against Politics. Politics made by Man. Violence.
But there is more. Much more. There are techniques that set the collection apart, adding reading pleasure to the appreciation of exact historical detail, three-dimensional characters, and authentic description.
Ashley Stokes is a master of experimental writing. To name just one example, the Story About a Short Film consists of two parts, the first half a hilarious film script with no less than 64 endnotes linked up with a second part, a short story that strings the notes together chronologically.
The secret ingredient, though, neither refers to the structure nor to the setting, or any other literary technique. It is the names and neologisms the author uses that win the reader over completely. You need to know the short stories to share the delight in names like Loomparette, Big Dump, or simply Blue. Whether symbolic or onomatopoetic, these linguistic details complement and tone down the dark realities Ashley Stokes has captured so well in his collection.
Take a first spoonful and enjoy.
About the reviewer
Sabine Meier works as an ESL Creative Writing tutor in Germany and has recently done an MA in Creative Writing at MMU. Her first novel Young is ready for publication, her second in progress.