The Pier Falls – Mark Haddon – Audible Book Review
The opening lines of The Pier Falls, the title piece in this début collection of short stories by Mark Haddon, describing a typical summer afternoon in a 1970s English seaside town, might lull the reader into expecting another tale of domestic strife (as in his latest novels, A Spot of Bother and The Red House) but, as the title suggests, this is a story of different kind. As our eyes are drawn from the “mackerel sky overhead” and the decrepit Regency buildings on the seafront to the beach and finally the pier, we are told “a rivet fails”. And, as if watching the action unfurl in slow-motion, we look on as disaster strikes and lives are lost.
Haddon’s story engages us from the start. In fact, in this gripping and eclectic collection, none disappoint. Revealing a darker tinge than his previous fiction, Haddon has spoken in an interview of how writing for the first time of the death of his characters “gives the stories piquancy and voltage”. Best known for his 2003 novel. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” he feels the need to shake off the image of “that nice man who wrote the book about the boy and the dog”.
Never afraid to experiment with form, content or style, Haddon offers us here a wide range of subjects and settings. We move from the very recognisable, strained, mother-daughter relationship in “Breathe” to the science-fiction scenario of “The Woodpecker and the Wolf”, where an expedition to Mars runs into serious problems. No topic is out of bounds, his only proviso being that “If your story is not more entertaining than those in that morning’s newspaper, throw it away “. Among the other stories here we follow a rescue mission into the Amazon jungle, observe the shocking antics of two young boys on a council estate who find a gun, and are told the tale of a princess abandoned by her lover (not a story Disney will EVER film!)
The most memorable story (and Haddon’s favourite) is the longest, “Wodwo”, set in a country house where a family come together for a Christmas reunion. As they settle down to their meal amid the argument and banter that often accompanies this kind of gathering, a dark stranger appears carrying a shotgun. The scene shifts from the domestic to the supernatural, ending on an eerie, unsettling note. For this story alone it would be worth listening to this collection.
The readers here are Clare Corbett and Daniel Weyman who capture both the everyday ordinariness which forms the background of many of the stories and the extraordinary events which interrupt them. “The Boys who left Home to learn Fear” is particularly gripping where Weyman, from the start, makes us feel the disorientation and terror of the doomed mission in the Amazon jungle. Listening to these stories adds an extra dimension to this intriguing and impressive collection.
This version lasts 9h 12 mins and is available from audible.co.uk