Don’t pick this book up expecting a standard collection of short stories.
Several pieces of it comply – and do so very enjoyably – but other works are very fragmentary and short, and often hide as much as they reveal. Also, other parts combine, nudging the work nearly to novel status – and it would be a very intriguing novel too, covering hidden corpses on the Fenlands, and a disastrous flood.
Throughout it all, McGregor is always active in changing his narrative approach. A poet’s drafts, academic footnotes, public confessions, gossip – all are used to convey something. And while the stories are commonly a strong narrative episode whatever their format, what comes across most throughout is the nuanced edge, the mood of the book and its settings and characters. This is aided by the amount of detail the reader is forced to fill in themselves.
With death, accidents and unusual personalities involved, and whatever the flood stories all add up to – there’s something very mysterious that needs picking through. With McGregor clearly a writer of major skill and able to show great variation, and this book somewhere between novel and linked short stories, that picking is strongly recommended.