Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Temptation: A User’s Guide by Vesna Main

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye and The Man with the Horn (

What We Thought: Vesna Main's short stories are unlike anything I have read before. I was occasionally reminded of Beckett and Pinter - though for me these stories lacked the dramatic tension of the plays. They vary in length from a page or two to interminable. Well, those long ones do actually end eventually but often without a conclusion.

These stories are irritating, bewildering, annoying, bemusing, challenging and enraging. The thing is, that appears to be the intention. They prod you and poke you and generally disturb you until you want to fling them aside in a fit of pique.

I made the mistake of reading some of these before bed - something I would strongly advise against as I was kept awake trying to puzzle out what they were about and what they might mean. Or, if they weren't about anything, what the fact that they weren't about anything might mean. I had to stop reading a couple of the more repetitive ones for the sake of my sanity.

Many of the stories feature people who are obsessed with something, though often that something is not obvious. Some seem obsessed with overthinking and others with having no particular thoughts at all. The characters are not particularly rounded and often there is little or no description or dialogue. Indeed, these pieces conform to no conventions of short fiction at all. Now, this is not to say they are bad. Or badly written. If the intention is to frustrate the reader and provoke a reaction, they are very good indeed.

Now, I expect some people will think these are rubbish and that the publishers are suffering from Emperor's New Clothes syndrome. Being the sophisticated consumer of modern fiction that I am, however, (or that I imagine myself to be) I am determined to avoid falling into this trap. I can't honestly say I enjoyed them and they certainly weren't relaxing - but then neither is Picasso's Guernica.

Anyway, you will have to read them yourself in order to decide whether they are good or not. Go on - give them a go. I dare you.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Unconventional fiction that challenges and provokes not because of its subject matter but because of the way it is written.

Avoid if you dislike: Being rubbed up the wrong way by a writer you've never met.

Ideal accompaniments: A couple of paracetamol.

Genre: Short Fiction.

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