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‘Beautiful wordsmithing’: Escape Routes review

Escape Routes is the debut book by Naomi Ishiguro, a recent graduate  of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. This alone may serve as a reason to read this book (her father, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan are among East Anglia’s esteemed graduates), but fortunately for us, there are many other reasons to pick it up. Escape Routes is a collection of short stories, linked with each other not by plot (even though there is one three-part novella) but by spirit: in her recent interview to The Observer, Ishiguro said she ‘always liked fairytales and folk tales’, which gifted her stories a touch of magic and mystery, whether she writes about a London yuppie or a twelve-year boy drawing a ‘perspective’ to the best of his abilities with pen and paper.

Many readers are cautious of short story collections, for they can seem segmental and not captivating enough. Ishiguro manages to overcome this barrier by introducing a supernatural element into all of her stories. Sometimes it is very subtle – as in ‘Bear’, where an old toy bought at an auction almost causes a conflict between a husband and a wife, but in the end is the trigger that takes their relationships to a another level – or the supernatural presents itself as a main construct of the story, as in The Rat Catcher, with the events of the story taking place in a mythical kingdom that suffers from the rat infestation.

This approach doesn’t turn these stories into genre fiction, though; the author wants us to read between the lines, and her protagonists and the world around them are more allegorical than real. From a certain perspective this can be blamed on the author: there are situations when the reader waits for an explanation, or at least for a more structured ending of the story or the scene, and doesn’t get it in full. It is not always satisfying enough, and a more solid genre element would definitely help with this. However, this is a deliberate choice by the author, and that must be acknowledged.

There is another, very important reason for reading Escape Routes: good short story collections are rare, especially those with strong and clear author’s voice, and especially by young authors. Escape Routes is indeed such a book: Naomi Ishiguro is a brilliant storyteller, attentive enough to uncover the subtle details of human nature and able to highlight them with her beautiful wordsmithing. Some stories will get you more excited than others, which may seem slightly overexposed or elongated — in the end, it is more difficult to write a brilliant short story than to write a brilliant novel. Naomi Ishiguro clearly has immense potential, and her debut collection uncovers new authentic voice on the British writing scene.

Image: Tinder Press