Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Knives and Forks by Gabby Hyman (Review)

It's incredible. The intensity... I think yeah, development has pushed us away from other people. You know, a lot of times people are rude because they want, like, immediate access or immediate information. You know some things in life can't be immediate, sometimes you gotta wait and let things happen

Street Guru (Part One)

By Nitin Sawhney

What a lucky bugger I am. And pardon my French, please. But, it's true, I am a lucky little bugger. As a blogger I have the opportunity to indulge in my very own nihilistic literary excesses, enjoy unbridled intellectual decadence and share my favourite topics with faceless souls in what I can only call a 'mènage à plus'. And to top it all I get sent books and music to review. Nice work if you can get it.

Gabby Hyman's 'Knives and Forks' is the second book written by a fellow blogger that I will be discussing on this forum. And to use baseball parlance it is two for two so far for me. That two refers to the quality of the writing, by the way. Last year, my compatriot El Yoyo was kind enough to let me pen a few words about his first novel. Now it's the time for the seasoned Dr Bob.

Gabby is a chronicler, as opposed to a story-teller. And to me there is a difference. A story-teller will distort his/her narrative from town to town, with no malice involved, mind, but the elephant that was grey and old in one village, will have become a young, sturdy fellow in the next one. A chronicler, on the other hand, is someone who will focus on the person riding the elephant instead, delving into her/his mundane life, right down to the colour of the mug from where they drink their tea.

'Knives and Forks' is a collection of eight short stories about the characters we come across in our daily lives and yet never give them a second look. Have you ever sat on the tube across a man with a side parting who is reading 'About a Boy'? Have you ever wondered what thoughts are roaming his mind, what little vices populate his life, what he gets up to on weekends?

This is the world Gabby presents to us. Meet Robert, a recovering food addict who moves out of New York after bottoming out in the big city. In his new digs he is introduced to a group of women who all have similar eating disorders. After initial distrust, he is finally welcomed to their group, only for fate to deal an unexpected card to him.

Or how about Carol and Sandy? Brought closer together by the death of Sandy's son, Steve, from Aids? 'Every faggot needs a lady pal, it's like having a safety on the trigger', Steve confesses to his longtime friend Carol one night. But even this reassurance cannot save him from his untimely death.

Or maybe it's Hanamoto's involuntary racism towards his neighbour, red-headed, language teacher, June Bishop, in contemporary Japan. Partnered up with Ichiro, a 'Half' - a Korean with a Japanese mother - June and her boyfriend are soon resented by the locals.

All throughout this fantastic collection Gabby applies a metaphorical microscope to human behaviour. His main strength is delivering the restlessness of otherwise ordinary lives with humour and wit. For instance, in 'Oh Burning Power of the Yes' he provides one of the better opening paragraphs I have read in a long time: 'This is inspiration if I ever heard it. I'm going out with this girl - okay, okay, woman - though she's a young 25 and the damn English language doesn't exactly have to rise and give her a seat. But she's a virgin, and I didn't know they stayed virgins past 25 and I have the crazy jones for her, so she goes up and down and hot and cold. Veronica Locke'. Some writers spend a lifetime trying to come up with a sentence half as good as that passage.

Hyman's stories carry all the baggage and dust of present and past generations in the same way a hobo carries his life in his rucksack. Each story has a spark in its eye and a wink in its soul. Each tale calls to that internal music inside us which chimes with the recognition of similar quirks in his characters.

Above all, Gabby's eight sketches remind us that in this mad, rushed world in which we live, where immediacy is everything, we would do well sometimes to pause and look around and maybe, who knows, ask the bloke with the side parting sitting across from us on the tube what he thinks about his book.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Bach in Havana' to be published on 9th July at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I think Nitin Sawhney's quote at the start of the post a very true quote. I also like how you open this post, blogging is truly an experience.

  2. This really made me want to read the book. Stories about people are the most fascinating and complex ones both to read and write. Every individual has a story to tell - and I know it's been said many times before but it's so true... I have a bad habit of staring at people on a train or walking past me and trying to imagine what they're like and what their lives are... It's a good thing I cycle to work, someone's going to tell me off for staring one day!

    Great review. Thanks for this recommendation.

    And the quote at the beginning is so true, we do live too fast and don't take time to notice world around.

  3. I have a terrible, no, fascinating, no, rather irksome habit of making up stories about the people I pass or am near. My children roar and roll their eyes as the man on the tube with the side-part, for example is really on his way to case a bank, and is using the book as a nonchalant cover for his sinister plot. Often, I don't tell anyone my hideous tales; I fear they will lock me away, but I make myself laugh. maybe I SHOULD write them down; it never occurred to me that someone might read them?

  4. The best part of the review for me, CiL, was enjoying your writing style and observations.

    The element that struck me the most was how differently people who live in varying environments view their world and the people who occupy it. It must be one hundred years since I last was on any public conveyance. Interstate highway travel at 80 or 85 miles an hour does not permit much more than glances at other travelers. Or, live in relative isolation in woodlands, as I have done at times, and the thought of people existing in crowded, stressful conditions or the incidence of encountering strangers, rarely will occur.

    All-in-all, it does sound like an interesting book, and there is nothing more fascinating to ponder than the workings of the individual mind and its interaction with other equally complicated minds.

  5. Thanks so much for your generous and kind review! One of my earliest teachers told us to go to a local laundromat, look at people stuffing clothes into the machines, and come up with lines of dialog that would circumscribe their life. Then we were told to write a story that merited the dialogue. Everyone deserves a story, and everyone has one. Your prose oft charges me with delight...and envy. In the hardest of times, it's music and language that swoop down like angels to wrest us from our dismal plunge into the mire.

  6. I totally am going to look for this. It sounds like something I would like very much.

    Love Renee xoxo

  7. What an interesting title to a wonderfully reviewed book. You lucky bugger. Finding your calling is euphoric. How would one get their little hands on these tales? The characters sound scrumptious.

    As always thanks for the visit. BTW, how would bugger translate into cuban?

    Saludos de la Florida.

  8. Yes, I too love the title. If I may digress a bit, it reminds me of the catchy lines in Shabba Ranks song: ting-a-ling a ling, schoolbell a ring, knife and fork fight fi dumplin...do you know it?

    You did a fabulous review of the book. I love what you say about each story and how it "calls to that internal music inside us..."

    Can you please say a bit more on your view of the difference between a story-teller and a chronicler? I think a story-teller can just as well delve into the details of a character?

    I share the writer's interest in people and wholeheartedly agree that we should make space for others.

    Thanks and I will be sure to visit the seasoned Dr. Bob.

    Mama Shujaa.

  9. Many thanks to you all for your kind words.

    Tina, I find Nitin's music to be of a prescient nature and beautiful precision.

    Polly, keep staring at people! But also keep an eye on the road.

    Yes, Chris, in fact, I think that's de rigueur in certain writing courses.

    Fram, one of the storie takes place in Florida in a semi-detached compound so Gabby runs the whole gamut of human experience. I think that the conflicts about which he writes could be found anywhere in the world.

    Gabby, thanks to you, man. Your book was one of those gems one never knows they exist until one comes across them.

    Thanks, Renee.

    Liza, now you've put me on the spotlight. How to translate 'bugger' into Spanish? I would say "aprovecha'o", or "vividor". It could also be "cabron" and I think that's the most appropriate translation.

    Mama Shujaa, Salman Rushdie is a story-teller. He has written a few novels about India, Pakistan, the partition, Islam and he always adopts a different perspective. Milan Kundera is the same. To me a story-teller is the person who sits around a fire and could tell the same story every night and every night it would be a different story with the same characters. 'One and A Thousand Nights' comes to mind.

    A chronicler on the other hand, is someone who keeps certain details as close to reality as possible. He/She is still telling a story but the tube train on which one of the characters gets is the one going from Bounds Green to Heathrow airport. When I read Gabby's short story about the American language teacher who falls for his Japanese student, I could feel I was in Japan. A chronicler will give you, in my view, more reality. For that read my least favourite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Cronicas ce una Muerta Anunciada" (sorry, I don't know the title in English).

    Many thanks for your feedback.

    Greetings from London.

  10. No need to apologise for your French - it's actually bloody good Latin. A very impressive review. I'm off to get the book. Thanks for the tip.

  11. I did enjoy the review as well, and I am only lamenting that it might be difficult for me to get the book here in Pakistan...

    I love the idea of reading about simingly 'normal' people that all of the sudden appear to have fascinating lives that inspire and teach us something new...

    Best regards,

  12. I sure would like to be sent a freebie to review..I'm thinking of reviewing chocolate cakes! Also I like these stories, even though I haven't read them..because they seem to be about real people! Gabby has a good friend!

  13. What a great review, Cuban! I plan to read this book in the near future but I am reading about five books at the same time right now. Must focus and finish these first.

  14. Many thanks for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.

  15. Thank you a lot for your clarification! Asante sana.

  16. That's OK, by the way, I meant to write 'A Thousand and One Nights'. Sorry.

    Greetings from London.

  17. hey there lucky bugger,
    so nice to read your splendid review of Knives and Forks - you have such a way of making fine distinctions which intrigue us to read on- like here with the chroniclers vs story tellers- merci encore-

  18. You are right CiL, that is one heck of an opening paragraph - makes me want to dash out and get the book and dive right in to read what must be fantastic prose (I always appreciate a well crafted paragraph. Aside from "technical" merit, your review of the stories also make it for me well worth fetching... I have always like studies about people.

    Gabby, sounds like you have a collection of stories to be proud of and CiL, thanks for bringing them to our attention.

  19. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  20. Lucky bugger...maybe. You write a damn fine book review.

  21. Many thanks, diva.

    Greetings from London.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...