I first became aware of Anneliese Mackintosh when she read at the Edinburgh ‘literary cabaret’ Rally and Broad earlier this year.
One of her stories, ‘How To Be An Alcoholic Writer’, which features in the collection Any Other Mouth, struck me as particularly poignant, as I am a serious drinker with a chronic writing problem and I found her observations to be spot on and highly amusing at the same time.
I enjoyed her performance so much that I decided to purchase a copy of the book a few days later and can truly say I am delighted to have done so.
The collection, which generally takes the form of a series of interconnecting memoirs, begins with the disclaimer:
Well, even if only ‘68% happened’ the reader will be in no doubt that the author has had her fair share of traumatic experiences.
In fact, given the subject matter contained within, this collection could all too easily be misinterpreted as a ‘misery memoir’ (a genre of literature I particularly despise). This would be a cardinal error however.
Although the author is frank and brutally honest with regard to her dysfunctional family, her personal battles with mental illness, grief and alcoholism, and her graphic sexual mishaps, there is also a particularly droll sense of humour that pervades the entire book. A good example of this is her comment regarding the bereavement process:
Eventually, when I was least expecting it, the grief started leaking out. The first place it leaked was in my knickers, and I had to take a spare pair to work.
The humour can also take a perspicacious turn too, as in this piece of self-criticism:
That morning, I’d been to an art gallery to see an exhibition on radical feminist art, I’d taken a stroll along the canal, and I’d stopped at Pret a Manger for some smoked salmon and Henry Miller… What a load of pretentious wank.
The ability to infuse the darker side of human experience with humorous elements is no mean feat and the author is to be praised for effortlessly doing so.
Even though the majority of the tales interconnect (though the time frame is fractured) and there is a fair amount of overlap and repetition, this is in no way detrimental to the overall effect. Indeed, at times I felt I was in fact reading a novel with a loose narrative structure, a la Trainspotting, as opposed to a collection of short stories.
Any Other Mouth, which was listed for the Frank O’Connor International Award 2014, is Anneliese Mackintosh’s debut collection of short stories and has firmly established her, in my humble opinion, as one to watch out for (and I’m positive anyone who reads this book will be in total agreement with me).
One can only hope she will continue to produce more fiction of this quality in the near future.