Short and sweet
Unused Language Jennifer Wingate Book Guild Publishing, £16.99
One of the great strengths of modern Jewish writing is the short story. This is especially true of AngloJewish writing, of writers like Clive Sinclair, George Steiner and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
However, it is not always easy to get short stories published. So Book Guild is to be applauded for bringing out this first collection of stories and poems by Jennifer Wingate, illustrated by Rick Rowbotham.
Unused Language is an interesting debut. What is striking is the voice. Most of the stories have a shared voice, elusive and mysterious. It often takes a while to find out what is going on.
This is partly because the emphasis is on the characters rather than the social world. They are like chamber pieces, exploring the shifts within relationships. Even when you think you know who is calling the shots, there is often a strange twist.
There are two kinds of relationships. First, the dark, difficult relations between characters, trapped in marriages, affairs or families, often alone or longing to break free or gain control over each other.
Then there are people’s relationships with themselves, looking unhappily at the lives they have made and seeking to break out of their sadness.
In one of the most arresting images, Max says, “I was like a spider both inhabiting, and planning escape from, its web”. The spider who both traps and is trapped in his own web is a perfect symbol for many of the characters.
These are very varied, however, their stories are similar, about what people withhold from each other or do to each other, rather than about love and intimacy.
It will be interesting to follow Jennifer Wingate’s development in future books. David Herman is a writer and TV critic for Prospect magazine
Wingate’s first story collection shows a distinctive, yet elusive voice