Hang him when he is not there is the first release by Brisbane-based independent publisher, Savage Motif, who provided a copy of the book for this review.
Hang him when he is not there
, Nicholas John Turner’s debut fiction collection (Savage Motif
2016), challenges and intrigues the reader from its very opening, ‘Prologue’. Is this a prologue to the collection as a whole, a story titled ‘Prologue’, a bit of both, or something else entirely? The conversational tone, a first-person direct address to the second-person reader, exemplifies much of the writing that is to follow, while also hinting at some of the themes the collection explores as a whole—most particularly old age, death, and the transitory places where we are cared for as we wait to die. That ‘last room’, as the prologue’s narrator describes it.
But of course the very idea of “the second-person reader” is a simplification that masks the smart and playful voyage we’ve begun, since the narrative ‘you’ actually implies multiple readers—a fictional addressee in addition to our readerly self—and the question of whether these are intended to be distinct. Later in the book, in the final story ‘All That Remains’, this mode of address returns in a series of passages that are signed-off as letters, and questions of perspective and identity are posed and investigated more directly, which for me brought to mind another literary collection released in 2016, Michelle Cahill’s wonderful Letter to Pessoa.
from ‘Letter to Pessoa’
“Church bells gag. Beyond the rooftops the sky crushes me with its vivid blue. The old man at reception nods sympathetically. He guesses I have my suicidal hours.”
from “Civility Place”
“You settle into your death chair. You call it this because—although it’s handsome and designer—it will eventually kill you: first by weakening your spine and then by rolling its five vengeful chrome wheels in starfish formation over your vital organs.”
from “Cream Reaper”
“One of his most popular flavours is sage, roast duck and single-origin cardboard.
‘For that one, we had to get the balance perfectly right,’ says G. ‘We had to keep in mind that the duck was the hero of the ice-cream, and things went smoothly from there.’”
“The sun is out. Uncertainty glitters in the sunshine. Yes, uncertainty wins in the end and all along the way.”
“I hold my imagination tightly in, I want as little sight as possible of the tract that runs from mouthparts to outlet, that never-ending cascade in sickening peristalsis, of stomach contents, gastric juice, chyme, foul unmentionable gunk, bits and bobs of exhausted elements of food on its way to the ultimate foulness of shit, stamped with the personality stink of the corpse.”
What is the poem saying in the white spaces? What do lives say in the gaps between events and people? What happened to us or two poetry that we ordinary people can no longer be confident that we know what the poet is saying and why? Grandpa said to put no trust in verse. Why?