1 Apr 2015

The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett

The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett
Dedicated to all who dream of escape!
The Way Out, a collection of short stories by Edinburgh-based writer Vicki Jarrett, published by Glasgow’s Freight Books, is welcome proof that new writing in Scotland is indeed flourishing. 

I was initially a bit put off by the blurb on the back – ‘Welcome to the world of chip shops, offices, call centres and run-down homes.’ – and feared I was in for a slice of contemporary kitchen-sink style doom and gloom. You know the kind of thing – like a bad Irvine Welsh rip-off with the comedy element removed.

Gladly, nothing could have been further from the truth. Jarrett’s book never descends into miserablism and many of the tales within are replete with dark humour.

Similarly, although some of the tales have an Edinburgh setting, which will be apparent to any readers from the Capital, Jarrett never succumbs to the predictable temptation of namedropping as many streets and locations as possible,  a mistake many would-be Edinburgh writers make in a futile attempt to inject a bit of ‘realism’ into their work.

Vicki Jarrett should also be applauded for never mentioning the colour of the Capital’s streetlights – any description of the ‘orange sodium glow’, so beloved of authors who really should know better, is usually enough to make me reach for my revolver!

There is an underlying theme which connects the tales, even if the subject matter varies from the fantastical to the mundane; namely that of escape. Jarrett dedicates her book to ‘all those who dream of escape’, and indeed it is this theme that lends the collection its name.

Though, of course, there is no hard and fast rule for a short story collection to have an underlying theme in this manner, it does add a certain je ne sais quoi, in my humble opinion. I am particularly fond of Will Self’s Grey Area for this very reason.

Jarrett also displays a certain  flair for the sting-in-the-tale ending, as is apparent in the tales ‘What Remains’, the amusing ‘White Pudding Supper’ and the hilarious, if gruesome, ‘Readymade’, which would fit seamlessly into Roald Dahl’s collection of adult short stories, Switch Bitch.  

I also found the story ‘Like Arseholes’ to be side splittingly funny – I actually laughed aloud – as back in the day I personally took part in many ludicrous market research sessions for money, and her portrayal of one of these sessions, told from different points of view is accurate beyond belief! The things we do for cash…

The collection is dominated by women and where it perhaps lets itself down is the fairly negative portrayal of some of the male characters, best illustrated in the two-part story ‘Home Security’, where they are stereotypically inept, vaguely threatening or just downright sleazy to put it in a nutshell. 

Having said that, the story ‘Chicken’, a tale of machismo told from a male perspective, is very well handled, so I was not unduly bothered with this slight flaw and it did not in any way impede my enjoyment of the collection as a whole; Vicki Jarrett is no Valerie Solanis, thankfully!

As stated at the beginning, this collection amply demonstrates that vital new writing is being put out in Scotland by smaller publishing houses.  We can only hope that the small press will get the support they truly deserve from such august bodies such as Creative Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust, the UNESCO World City of Literature Trust and the EIBF in order to further bloom.

The Way Out is Jarrett’s debut collection of short stories and is highly recommended. Indeed, I was so impressed that I intend to track down a copy of her novel, Nothing is Heavy – shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year 2013 – at the earliest opportunity.

Vicki Jarrett's website

or find your way to FREIGHT

Cargo Publishing Glasgow
... and speaking of Freight Books, I always wanted to ask how it was that we ended up with two newish publishers in Glasgow called Freight and Cargo ... is that not strange, serendipitous or weirdly lucky?  

Freight Books Glasgow
... or Freight?
Now I'm on the lookout for a new imprint called PAYLOAD PUBLISHING methinks, 
or maybe SHIPMENT BOOKS ... who knows?

Any thoughts ... then tweet us @bookscot