As the reviews on
The History of the
Doctor illustrate, I read a lot of Doctor Who books, to put
it mildly. But I also read a lot of non-Doctor Who books; so
many, in fact, that the room in our house that the wife had initially
earmarked as an en suite has instead become something of a modest library.
But even though I flitter away so many hours of my life with my head stuck
in a book, it’s incredibly rare that I devour one with the relish that I
did Tiny Deaths.
I purchased this tome after hearing Robert Shearman co-host a Big Finish
podcast back in August 2009, during which he read a little drabble from
his Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical collection. The
succinctly-titled “Sharp” told of a man whose wife had been beheaded in
South America whilst off on some wilful sojourn, and his increasingly
desperate attempts to make his life as worthy of note as her death was.
Instantly I was sold. And so with his Love Songs for the Shy and
Cynical sat proudly atop my Christmas list, I thought that in the
meantime I’d try out Shearman’s World Fantasy Award-winning collection,
As one would infer from the title, Tiny Deaths is about
mortality. And as was the case with “Sharp”, within just a few lines of
reading this anthology’s opening story, “Mortal Coil”, once again I was
enraptured. This fitting opener tells of the day when, having finally
admitted that they misjudged the level of “knowledge of death” that humans
should have been given, the powers that be decide to inform every person
in the world of how and when they will perish. Everyone, that is, save for
one disgruntled fellow, who finds himself unemployable in this
post-“knowledge of death” world as, amongst other things, he’s unable to
prove his expiry date to prospective employers.
Shearman’s mordant prose is direct and clipped, practically every word
vested with its own, twisted irony. And his style is certainly all his
own; the preposterous bureaucracy and twisted logic of this
post-“knowledge of death” world is perfectly drawn, and what’s more it’s
drawn with such a patent lack of enthusiasm that it feels unfalteringly
real. It’s almost plausible, and at the end of the day that’s what makes
it so damned funny.
The ensuing procession of stories continue to blend the lifelessly mundane
with the surreal to similar effect, as Shearman relays the tragic tale of
Woofie, Adolf Hitler’s pet dog, who from the moment that the young führer
bought him was destined for hell in any event; Tanya, an astonishingly
mature – but nonetheless imaginary – child; and, most impressively of all,
Jesus Christ, a tortured soul destined to suffer an everlasting number of
concomitant, tiny deaths in the collection’s concluding novelette.
It’s so rare that I stumble across an author that caters to my admittedly
rather peculiar and specific taste, but Robert Shearman can now count
himself amongst their number. Much in the same way that Gavin & Stacey’s
Smithy has helped to rid me of the last vestiges of the guilt that I used
feel when I’d have to tell people to get their filthy hands out of my
curry, Tiny Deaths has reminded me that it’s okay to laugh at
those “tiny” things that we all constantly half-dread; those “tiny” things
that really don’t stand up to much logical scrutiny.
Thought-provoking in the extreme and categorically hilarious throughout, I
don’t recommend Tiny Deaths but forcefully advocate its immediate
purchase. It’s little wonder that Shearman won a “knobbled head” for this
tour de force.