Short and sweet

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS - DAVID HER­MAN

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

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