Friday 1 May 2020

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Fragmentary Lives: Three Novellas" by Philip Tew

It is a truism that all children should be grateful to their parents; it is not often we hear the reverse of that. Philip Tew should be pleased that his son advised him to refresh his manuscripts and add a third short story to the collection that has been published as Fragmentary Lives.

Here are three novellas, three very different aspects of a life, three versions of how life can twist and turn, bring us down or build us up. These are three stories well worth reading in isolation or more importantly together.

For me the middle story, “Swimming the Goldfish Bowl” is the stand out. It is a visceral description of a man's downfall. Luke has no idea that he is the victim in a tale of sex, abuse and kidnapping. He has no reason to conclude he is being used by a woman with her own agenda, no idea that his world can be so easily be brought crashing down. This seems to me to be the ideal building block of a full length crime or mystery thriller - a start to what could be an outstanding plot with so many outcomes possible. The denouement is both shocking and questioning, surely the perfect short story that has the reader pleading to know more.

The final novella "After the Revolution (Failed to Materialize)" is a visceral tale of a life lived, mistakes made and wrong turns taken. It is a withering account of the years of Thatcher and how the Hard Left failed in its attempt to gain power. Disillusionment is rife in this piece as we see how relationships can break down so easily despite the well-meaning of the participants. It is all so real, the accounts of partnerships foundering for so many reasons and of mistakes made in choices taken. This is a real-life account of how things don’t always work our for the best, yet an account that gives us a little hope as the writer comes full circle in his search for contentment. The beauty of “After the Revolution” is that we can meet protagonist Jim Dent again in Tew’s outstanding first novel Afterlives (reviewed here).

The first novella “Another Long Weekend” skirts around romance and infatuation as we see how relationships grow and fail. Friendship is at the centre of the story and how the writer takes advantages of friendships at all levels whilst being taken advantage of himself. It is the story of a life that we can all recognise and want to know more about. 

Life is fragmentary and these pieces can join together or be shaken apart. The novellas throw all the pieces up into the air and we wait as we turn each page to find where they have landed and what effect they will have on the protagonists. This is the final conceit of the three novellas. We are left engaged and don’t want the stories to end. We are being invited into Tew’s world and we want more as a result of this invitation.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-three. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years.  He has always loved books and reading.

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