Genre-bend­ing sto­ries-in-sto­ries

SFX - - Reviews - Nic Clarke

re­leased OUT NOW! 448 pages | Pa­per­back/ebook Au­thor Nina al­lan Pub­lisher Ti­tan Books

For sev­eral years now, nina Al­lan has been mak­ing a name for her­self with clever, lay­ered short sto­ries – es­pe­cially among UK readers, as a 2014 Bri­tish Sci­ence Fic­tion As­so­ci­a­tion award for her novella Spin at­tests – as well as for thought­fully prob­ing book re­views. Her de­but novel, orig­i­nally pub­lished in 2014 by a small press, has now been reis­sued in a re­vised, ex­panded edi­tion, and it’s the per­fect show­case both for her in­ter­est in how sto­ries work, and for the skill and sheer read­abil­ity of her writ­ing.

Like much of Al­lan’s fic­tion, The Race is very care­fully con­structed, the sort of book that re­veals more of it­self the more you think about it. (Far from every­thing, though – if you’re the sort of reader who prefers all mys­ter­ies to be solved by the fi­nal page, you’ll come away from this one dis­ap­pointed. In that re­spect, at least.) There are five parts to the novel – four first-per­son nar­ra­tives cen­tred on four dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, plus the 70 pages of the new “ap­pendix” – and each part builds upon, re­fracts, and chal­lenges the oth­ers, in ways that are end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing but tricky to syn­op­sise.

The tense and melan­choly first part takes place in an al­ter­na­tive fu­ture Eng­land, in a south-coast town dev­as­tated by the side­ef­fects of frack­ing, whose econ­omy has be­come de­pen­dent on a mix­ture of dark tourism, il­le­gal drugs and the rac­ing of ge­net­i­cally en­hanced “smart­dogs” (hounds mod­i­fied so they can com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally with their “run­ners”). Then we learn it was all just a story writ­ten by the pro­tag­o­nist of part two – but this nar­ra­tor’s pre­sen­ta­tion of things is, in turn, called into ques­tion by what we see later. Keep­ing track of par­al­lels and con­tra­dic­tions is half the fun.

The Race can be read in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent ways: as a tale of par­al­lel worlds, of fam­i­lies break­ing apart, of the refuge of imag­i­na­tion when re­al­ity is too hard to bear. It’ll grip you and scram­ble your brain, and do it all with some stun­ningly beau­ti­ful im­agery. What more could you want from genre fic­tion?

A key in­spi­ra­tion for the book was the 2000 film Amores Per­ros, part of which cen­tres on dog­fight­ing in Mex­ico City.

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