Utopian fictions

A snow goose; and other utopian fictions is an anthology of short stories. The first foray into fiction by the climber / travel writer Jim Perrin. I'd never come across Perrin before, but the stories made me want to read more of his non-fiction. His prose, especially when describing landscapes or nature, is often very beautiful - "Buzzards were wheeling and mewing overhead; a sibilance of goldcrests flitted and wheezed between pines and bulrushes.....Along the western horizon hill-ridges rolled in a fading succession, easing them round to the north and wrapping them in beyond the valley of the Bachwy".

As for the stories themselves, they're a bit of a mixed batch. There are five in total, ranging from novella size to just 8 pages: A snow goose, After the Fall, Incident at Mew Stone Point, The burning, The Eyas. Some are a lot better than others, some seem quite derivative, some are incredibly beautiful.

I enjoyed A snow goose, a clever tale which could quite easily have formed the basis of a much longer novel. Perrin very sensibly circumscribes the size and keeps it tight. The tale, which muses on the Franklin expedition, and what might have happened to any survivors, is both believable, and the tautness of the tale works well reflecting the shortening of the explorers' lives. Perrin's short story was published a year before Canadian archaeologists discovered HMS Erebus, which has put a slightly different spin on the tale, but I like to think that Perrin's story may indeed have some basis in truth.

After the Fall is an other-worldly tale that owes more to Lost Horizon and Seven Years in Tibet. Its descriptions of the Himalayas are beautiful, but it's a strange story, and I found it oddly unsettling. Moss, the mountaineer (definitely not a rolling stone, unlike his more excitable climbing buddy) is on the run from a disastrous relationship with a caricature of a feminist. When the climb goes wrong Moss meets a tribe of yetis, who have perfected male-female relationships by largely taking sex out of the equation, Moss seems to think this is a good idea.....

Incident at Mew Stone Point is a story about mountaineering, relationships, and witchcraft. The mountaineering descriptions left me rather cold, far too technical, but it's a decent enough story about the difficulties of forming new relationships, and the rewards.

The burning was the story that I found most challenging. Perrin's descriptions of Mid-Wales are stunningly beautiful - in fact they made me feel quite homesick. But the Welsh family at the heart of the tale, I found more difficult. I come from an area of Wales - Monmouthshire - which both identifies itself as Welsh, but also speaks very little Welsh, this is purely down to the history of the region. As a result I feel Welsh, but also have sometimes felt excluded by people from other parts of Wales, who feel themselves to be "more" Welsh; this came through very strongly in the story. I found it an, at times, very uncomfortable read. And its mixture of reality and "Welsh magic" didn't always sit that well with me. It's certainly writing though that's going to get a reaction from you.

My favourite story, by far, was the beautiful short tale that concluded the book - The Eyas - the story of a young lad going into a slate quarry one morning determined to catch a falcon chick. Its themes of nature, loss, and the rugged Welsh countryside sang to me. A wonderful little tale inspired by the writings of Henry Williamson (Tarka the Otter), but with its own lyrical voice.

Some of the stories I loved, some I hated, all called forth a response.


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