Novellas

Solitude is a wonderful enabler of art, but as we learn from Stephen Scourfield’s stories, it can engulf us in the absence of external balancing forces and can become dangerous in the process. Each of the characters in Stephen Scourfield’s three novellas (a craftsman, a novelist, and a student of nature) is a solitary, with the possible exception of Bea, the septuagenarian companion of Matthew Rossi in the second novella, Like Water, who is slightly more inclined towards relationships than Matthew, who says of his ‘fistful’of girlfriends, ‘In terms of human relationships, the only thing I enjoy more than their company is not having their company.’ When practised by Dr Bartholomew Milner, naturalist and Ethical Man, solitude’s dangers become obvious.

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This novella is crammed with incident. It includes domestic violence, a decomposing corpse, incest, child abuse, alcoholism, murder, attempted murder, an unnamed and oddly passive baby, guns and a hair-raising cross-country chase. Roy Stamp, a one-legged alcoholic in a car (he can drive), pursues his fourteen-year old daughter, Ruby, and his twelve-year-old son, Mark, because the boy has seen, through the window of a locked shed, the body of their mother. Realising that their father has killed her, the children flee in a van. Despite being bashed over the head (with his wooden leg), being shot in the eye with an air rifle, and being run off the road at high speed, like a cartoon character, Roy seems indestructible and keeps popping up, whatever the children do to get rid of him. Unable to drive, Mark’s contribution is to hold the uncomplaining baby, to shoplift food and disposable nappies, and to steal petrol.

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 This volume of stories adds to the spate of books by or about Turgenev that have appeared recently yet it cannot be said to be redundant, as it provides an English version of five novellas not readily available in a collected form. Since the translator’s argument rests on the importance of the frequently neglected later part of Turgenev’s oeuvre (i.e. the shorter works appearing after the major novels) to a true understanding of Turgenev’s philosophical and spiritual history, then obviously the English-speaking world must have access to it, and they should be pleased to make the acquaintance of this accurate and easy translation.

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