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The International Writers Magazine
: Book Review

Small Maps of the World by Brooke Biaz
A Suzannah Brooksbank review

Graeme Harper is once again writing under the alias of Brooke Bias, to write Small Maps of the World.

On first receiving the book I thought that I was receiving a travel book about lots of different countries, but this book is not like that at all. One actually learns very little about the actual countries, but that is not the point of the book.

The book is set in two halves; Part 1 of Small Maps of the World is a series of short stories, each one set in a different country at a different time. They aren’t about the country, but about a person in the country or an event that happened. They investigate "the meanings attached to events in place".

For example, the story set in London is about a girl that is called Hermione. She is an amateur writer of Science Fiction and is finding it very difficult to break into the Science Fiction Writing World. The other character in the story is Jude. He works as a publisher who specialises in publishing Science Fiction books. The climax and point of the story centres around a time that, in the middle of the night both characters are walking around London towards the same café. They could both help each other on some level and when they bump into the other, as I reader you hope they at least speak to each other if not get together, but they don’t, they just keep on walking.
There are descriptions of the Thames, and the odd mention of a street name, but apart from that there is very little else to suggest they are in London.

Some of the stories are rather intriquing, such as Heloise finds a Mammoth. The title line is repeated at the start of almost every chapter and the writing style is rather abstract, very different to some of the other more mainstream style stories.

It feels like all of the stories are written by different writers. This corresponds with Part 2 of the book. A group of travel writers comes to stay in a hotel; we see the story from the hotel and restaurant owner’s perspective. The ‘blurb’ on the back of the book describes the book as a whole as stories that "find the subsurface of the surroundings through voice and story in a tapestry of narratives woven around a hotel and restaurant." There have been murders in the town and the hotel is the centre of investigation because the three women that are missing are hotel guests. There is something very suspicious about this town and the people in it want the writers to leave before "those journalists get the real stories and ruin everything".

I enjoyed this book though it sometimes confused me as to what it was about. Having each story in a different style and in a different place keeps it interesting and means that one never becomes bored of characters or places, and one is often eager to discover where the next one is set and what it is about; it is especially exciting if one has been to the place because landmarks and names can be recognised so it takes the stories to a new level. It is a very interesting way of writing and I think that it is very effective, thought very separated throughout the book.

THE AUTHOR GRAEME HARPER is Editor-in-Chief of the international journal NEW WRITING, and Head of the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media at the University of Portsmouth (UK). Chair of the UK's Centre for Creative Writing Research-Through-Practice, his works include DANCING ON THE MOON, SWALLOWING FILM: SHORT FICTION

© Suzannah Brooksbank Jan 18th 2006

Suzannah is a Creative Arts Major at the University of Portsmouth

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