Sunday 21 January 2024

Review by Laura Besley of "Chasing the Dragon" by Kathy Hoyle

Kathy Hoyle’s debut novella-in-flash, Chasing the Dragon, is an ambitious and compelling example of the form. The novella-in-flash is an emergent new genre operating largely outside mainstream publishing. It combines the concision of flash fiction standalone stories with the space in which to develop a novella-length narrative. In order to make the stories self-contained and unique, Hoyle has made good use of flash fiction techniques, such as stories written in the form of lists, letters and reports. This creates the variety and change of pace for the reader often found in novellas-in-flash while simultaneously ensuring each story adds to the overall arc.    

Despite its brevity – Hoyle’s novella-in-flash is sixty-five pages in total – Chasing the Dragon spans across generations, continents and cultures. It is told through multiple points of view and the main thread of the story is of Americans in wartime Vietnam, the difficulties they experience there and subsequently back home after their return to the United States. There is a single story written from the point of view of Bihn, a young Vietnamese boy. To create a deeper and richer understanding of these characters and their worlds, there are also stories set in an earlier time where we learn of the characters’ childhoods and childhood traumas.   

Hoyle is extremely adept at voice. The first story, which relays a Vietnamese proverb, opens with the sentence, ‘In Vietnamese legend, Lac Long Quan, the most noble king of all dragon-kind, lived near the water of the Dong Sea,’ and continues to be told in long lyrical sentences. The following story, from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson Scott or ‘[j]ust plain old JT,’ consists of much shorter sentences and a strong dialect: ‘Jacob don’t talk of it none. He don’t like guns none either. He says he’s a pacifist. That he don’t like hurtin no one nor nothin.’ The report and letter stories are both written in a more formal register befitting their forms and the list makes excellent use of repetition; each line starts with ‘He will’ or You will’ and a singular, heartbreaking, ‘They will.’ 

Through its seventeen stories – bookended with the Vietnamese proverb: Children of Dragons, Grandchildren of GodsChasing the Dragon sheds light on a largely overlooked consequence of war, as summed up by Willy telling his mama in the eponymous story: ‘Ain’t nobody won nothing.’ Kathy Hoyle’s novella-in-flash evokes a kaleidoscope of emotions, ranging from horror and outrage to compassion and awe. Each individual story is a fantastic rendering of flash fiction, but it is in its entirety that Chasing the Dragon really demonstrates Hoyle's range and ability for both the form as well as the depiction of characters and the worlds they inhabit. This is a truly stunning debut.  

About the reviewer
Laura Besley is the author of 100neHundred and The Almost Mothers. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea.

You can read more about Chasing the Dragon by Kathy Hoyle on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

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