Sunday 3 December 2023

Review by Gus Gresham of "Umbilical" by Teika Marija Smits

While savouring this stunning collection of stories, I kept asking myself (as an avid reader and writer) ‘What’s the most effective way of getting a reader’s attention?’ Because Umbilical does grab the attention and does not let go. It’s stylish, intriguing, beautifully written. There are characters and concepts that fascinate, beguile, bewilder. But there is something else going on here …

Teika Marija Smits is not writing sci-fi, fantasy, horror or speculative fiction for its own sake; she is employing elements of these in ways that are on-point. Whether a story has social justice at its core, the human condition, relationships, or the dangers of unfettered medical and tech development, the ideas are handled with subtlety and skill. 

She trusts her own intuitions, too – like the narrator of the title story who hears “those ancient, knowing whisperings arising from my womb”. Smits knows that the ‘darker’ parts of ourselves that we so often dismiss are the places where treasures may be found.

Because it would be difficult to summarise any of the stories (without committing spoiler-crime), I can only tantalise and tease:

In ‘Death of the Grapevine,’ we meet a computer engineer whose job it is to troubleshoot an in-house AI system and carry out a bizarre and strangely sad form of maintenance. In ‘His Birth,’ amid the sensitive and powerful rendering of the bond between a mother and child, we meet a creature known as a lamphine. In ‘Girls’ Night Out,’ the first-person plural pronoun ‘we’ takes on a whole other mysterious and resonant meaning. In ‘Our Lady of Flies,’ loss, misunderstanding and a failing relationship are deftly explored. In other stories, such as ‘Star Making at Sellafield,’ we encounter tenderness and hope.

As for the earlier question (What’s the most effective way of getting a reader’s attention?) Teika Marija Smits’s answer is to explore issues from quirky angles, thereby offering unique, enthralling perspectives.

A thoroughly engaging and enjoyable collection.

About the reviewer
Gus Gresham has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing (NTU) and has worked as a mechanical engineer, construction worker, fruit picker, community activist for Greenpeace, writer, English tutor, audio-book producer, medical-scenario simulator/facilitator, civil funeral celebrant, and building surveyor. He’s had short stories published in literary magazines including Brittle Star and Under the Radar, and his most recent novel, Kyiv Trance – a dark, twisty, love story and crime thriller – is available on Amazon.

You can read more about Umbilical by Teika Marija Smits on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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