#12: The Bonobo’s Dream, by Rose Mulready

Rose Mulready unsettles the reader from the very first page of her 2016 Seizure Viva la Novella winning novella, The Bonobo’s Dream: a birch tree listens; a young boy, James takes off his “drawing harness” and looks out of a glass window, touching it then licking his finger, tasting it; on a smaller scale, his goldfish sing inside their own glass bowl, and we’ll soon see this echoed in the life of James’s family inside their house, and the whole city beneath its giant glass dome. The novella reveals itself as a speculative fiction from this first page, with more details being teased out in the pages that follow. James’s needy mother, Suzanne, comes in to see him, and she “smells of her morning dose”, which holds echoes of Aldous Huxley’s soma (“a gramme is better than a damn”). Aquila, James’s philandering father, a talented and well-known artist, considers the word ‘umbrella’, “meaningless now, an anachronism”, presumably because of the dome. He arranges to visit his mistress Antoinette at a hotel that is “only a short catazoom’s ride away”.

So yes, this is a speculative fiction, and one in two parts: Fishbowl and Black-Beaked Birds, but it also a deep and affecting literary fiction; we’re in a fantastical and unlikely post-apocalyptic world, but it’s the wonderfully realistic and humanly flawed characters that really drive the book forward. Circling each other in their home, self-medicating, living an unreal domed existence somehow disconnected from the reality of their situation, this family comes to life as we learn more about them. James’s sister Charity is coming to visit for her birthday, and tensions are expected. When his mother Suzanne comes in to see him and asks if he loves her, she laughs at his concern for his fish, “as if they’re real”, then leaves:

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#11: The End of Seeing, by Christy Collins

Photographs capture light at an instant in time, and so they preserve moments, allowing us to recall them as memories; in many cases, then, photographs can remind us of what we have lost: the past. If the act of seeing a photograph can highlight what we have lost, does ‘the end of seeing’ entail a letting go of the past?

In The End of Seeing by Christie Collins, a winner of the 2015 Seizure Viva la Novella prize, the protagonist Ana is struggling to let go of the past. Ana has suffered loss on multiple fronts and is haunted by the close ones now missing from her life: her young daughter Mia, killed in a car accident; and her husband Nick, a photojournalist presumed lost in a shipwreck while chasing a story of desperate asylum seekers. When Ana thinks she’s seen Nick in the corner of a photograph, “a silhouette on the edge of a street scene”, she decides to travel to Europe against the warnings of her friends and family, a pilgrimage to “follow this until I am rid of your shadow sewn to mine” and “return home only when this is over and all that’s left is a memory like a bruise, only painful when examined”.

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