Visuals, the written word, and a vast reach.
Publisher: Negative Press
First Published: 2012
Date Reviewed: 14th November 2012
Still is an anthology of short stories by an international mix of 26 writers. Each story is based on inspiration gained from a certain photograph. The concept of Bakker, credited as the editor, the book invites new interpretations of his photographic work. With submissions from writers such as Evie Wyld and Jan Van Mersbergen, and including some up-and-coming authors, the book is an assortment from the industry as a whole.
Combining artistry and writing, Still is a work stunning in both presentation and textual content. Not only are the photographs wonderful to look at – the oft-used macro details, the sharpness and detail, the sheer truth of the emptiness that engulfs you perhaps even more so than it might in real life – the design of the book is as much a strong point as the rest. Whilst for Bakker the photography is important, the book itself almost favours the writing, the photographs covering only 3/4s of a single page per story, the rest of that page given to the title. This makes it truly a book for those interested in either subject as well as those interested in both. Bakker took centre stage for his photography exhibition, and in continuing the theme by incorporating the stories and putting them first he has ensured the longevity of his own work, longer than it might have been otherwise.
The fantastic thing about the stories in Still is something Bakker notes in his introduction – often the writer has taken the photographic inspiration and run with it, leaving behind the notion of the derelict town hall. This means that there is a rough three categories of writing: the story based entirely around the photograph and its context, the story that starts with the photograph before leaping somewhere else, and the story that uses the photograph as a cleverly integrated device. Whilst the stories are in nature quite similar, which will be discussed in due course, the differences mean that the book never loses its brilliance, never becomes dull.
‘…entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an “event boundary” in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.’
The book is incredibly international, with authors from all over the world contributing stories that highlight particular cultures, and bring into focus the similar experiences that everyone faces. And “faces” is the right word – these are not joyous stories, indeed some are harrowing, and most share an interesting sort of disconnect. This disconnect is between reader and the character and it almost emphasises the vacant nature of the town hall, which when you think of the way some stories do not reference the hall, makes for a whole new topic of discussion. Similar too is the basic storytelling method, one of the reasons the book is so disturbing in that fascinating way. The often sparse language, the difference in dialects and speech patterns that don’t necessarily conform to the author’s choice of setting, and the hard-hitting atmosphere these elements bring to the table.
There is a specific theme that runs through most of the book, that of politics, society, and domesticity. They may be different subjects generally, but the way they are all compiled in one binding effectively puts across the fact that they are connected. Though it is not as simple as saying that politics affects society that affects domesticity. In addition there is the theme of self and how one fits into the world. There are stories focusing on themes such as cleaning an old work place that was important to the person, a loss of place in the life of one’s child, seeking sanctuary in the church, the difference between sisters, and the loss of self and identity that can happen after an accident.
Burdensome womanhood: inviting unwanted attention from unsavoury men who give themselves permission to see a young sapling as a full-grown tree, ready to be mounted. Tiresome womanhood: bringing with it expectations of marriage, of fecundity and of the fruit of the womb. Worrisome womanhood: ushering in responsibilities and tentative, anxious dreams for one’s offspring. Militant womanhood: in a state of perpetual readiness to do battle, a lioness ready to kill for her cubs.
Bakker has achieved his aim of creating something new from something already existing, as well as creating an art book, a literary work, and a combination of both. Still would make a superb addition to the shelves of anyone who favours the freedom provided by short stories and the quick dose of cerebral reading that accompanies them.
The quotations used in this review were taken from the stories of Justin Hill and Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende respectively.
I received this book for review from the editor, Roelof Bakker.
December 5, 2012, 9:46 am
Due to The Classics Club I have really got into short stories collections but I haven’t read a lot of modern collections. This sounds really interesting though, as I love both reading and photography.
December 5, 2012, 5:08 pm
I haven’t heard of this one, thanks for the review! it sounds lovely :)
December 5, 2012, 6:22 pm
Oooh, sounds v interesting. I read a volume of short stories inspired by paintings but for copyright reasons, the images couldn’t be included — in some ways, that worked for me — I got to imagine wild, but it was frustrating at times. V glad this one has the images — will have to check it out at a bookstore and see if it grabs me!
December 6, 2012, 12:06 pm
This sounds like an interesting read – I like the idea of it.
December 7, 2012, 12:01 am
Jessica: I’m going to have to read through your list again, embarrased to say I can’t think of many classic short stories (beyond a few certain authors at least). The combination is of text and visuals is rather powerful :)
Jennifer: It is! The stories subjects aren’t happy but the overall thing is indeed lovely.
Audra: That’s weird, you’d think the editor(s) would want to include the paintings before thinking of publishing it, surely a neccersary part. I can see boths sides for it. There’s just this certain feel about it, I’d say if you like the sort of book then it would grab you. I should probabnly say it’s small in size, however – not a coffee table book at all.
Sheila: Good to hear :)
December 9, 2012, 5:57 pm
[…] An intelligent and highly positive review of Still has been posted on the Wormhole blog… Here’s a brief excerpt: ‘Combining artistry and writing, Still is a work stunning in both presentation and textual content… the book never loses its brilliance, never becomes dull… Still would make a superb addition to the shelves of anyone who favours the freedom provided by short stories and the quick dose of cerebral reading that accompanies them.’ – Read the full review on the Wormhole blog […]