Gumble's Yard's Reviews > Hang Him When He Is Not There

Hang Him When He Is Not There by Nicholas John Turner
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bookshelves: 2018, 2019-republic-of-consciousness-long

Now longlisted for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize

This book is one of the first three published by a welcome addition to, and supporter of, the vibrant UK small press scene: Splice.

Splice’s innovative and model operates on three main pillars: the publication of original fiction (starting with three short story collections in 2018 of which this is one); a weekly online review concentrating on other small presses; finally an annual anthology where the previous year’s authors “splice” together their work, and those of another writer who’s work they wish to showcase.

The publication of this book is an interesting story - originally self published in Australia in 2016 and (for a self published book) gaining a surprising amount of coverage, it was picked up by a UK agent (as part of a discussion about a future project) and then the UK and Irish rights acquired by Splice.

Splice appear to have lightly edited the book: when I compare to reviews of the Australian edition I noticed that the chapter headings have been removed and also that the book appears to have had some typos removed (itself a self referential feature given that the narrator of an early chapter is a well paid proof reader)

This is a book which I found very difficult to categorise and one that I think sets out to deny or even deconstruct categorisation. It is perhaps telling that the book’s back cover describes it as a novel, and the publishers website as a short story collection, as it is simultaneously both and neither.

In form the book opens with a brief, enigmatic but moving prologue, continues with seven short stories and concludes with an eight chapter which is effectively a collection of flash fiction pieces, mainly epistolary in nature. Some of these are clearly linked, others not obviously so.

The prologue is narrated by a nursing home worker, reflecting on a patient previously in the “last room” (a sensitively explained idea for someone who has accepted they have reached the last stage of life) who has unexpectedly changed her outlook.

The first chapter is about a writer - a proof reader, facially disfigured in a childhood accident which killed his father, who now specialises in editing government announcements, has recently ghost written an autobiography, and is now visiting a reclusive author.

The second chapter is set in a nursing home around the death of a completely invalid male patient during New Year’s Eve fireworks, a death witnessed, possibly in some mysterious way provoked, by an eccentric female patient known for her aimless, but obsessive, reading of a Gunter Grass novel while she floats around the home and which takes place while the supervising nurses are occupied with baser matters.

Later chapters introduce, or at least appear to introduce us, to: an alcoholic visited by a mysterious messenger; a relationship originating among a cultish group of self described mystics; two brothers and their sexual adventures, and the mysterious artist lodging in the other room in their small guest house; a mysterious Agent visiting a Parisian who, in a double sense, literally entombed he and his wife in his apartment; what seems to be the lives of the two nurses.

At heart though I think the book examines the very concept of art, particularly literature, its creation and even more so consumption.

What does it mean to read a book, and how should a book be read.

This is a book which defies being read in a conventional linear manner, a manner which is described, perhaps exaggerated by the one of the nurses

The young nurse [who many years later - perhaps - becomes a leading literary author, only denied the Man Booker and Miles Franklin Prizes by her insistence on anonymity] likened her own personal experience of reading to the shuffling of a caterpillar, which first drags its back half up, then extends its front to advance. It had something to do with the burden of her mind, her cautiousness, and her desperation to comprehend everything around her before moving on. At the end of every page she .. glanced over to confirm the page number. Then she checked the number on the next page, to ensure that the one correctly followed the other

And our proofreader comments on our innate tendencies as a reader to want to impose order even when it may not be intended.

Even the most highly channeled mind is a relentless assembler of information, a stubborn maker of stories.

His own work taking him to the opposite extreme

I was indeed a proof reader. But even within that specialisation I was a specialist, capable of living for hours, days, weeks or even months among the fine structural details of a text without once concerning myself with its ultimate relevance or value or meaning.

Perhaps the true act of reading is instead embodied (again with that phrase having a double sense) in the approach of the female nursing home resident, one that is diagnosed by the female nurse as “having evolved to service her psychological disingenuousness” but one better suited to a narrative like this which consciously defies any quest for straightforward narrative linearity

Ursula did not read in the conventional fashion of left to right, top to bottom. Instead, she merely opened a page and scanned, seemingly randomly, her eyes following no obvious pattern ........... She is looking for proof of her own life there, as a bee looks for flowers that resemble itself. Which is to say, not by visiting each flower on a single plant in a meticulous and ordered and exhaustive manner.

Ultimately the book itself challenges the very act of reading, and by extension, surely even more so the action of reviewing, as a naturally destructive one.

Given that writing and reading are the reflection of each other (like throwing and catching, speaking and listening....) the phrase “I am reading someone” ... must imply a kind of uncreation (anticreation) or else negation (obliteration?)

Perhaps acting here like the bee “looking for a flower that resembles” myself, and drawing in my own University training in quantum mechanics, I was reminded here of the Copenhagen interpretation of that subject, and in particular the idea of wave function collapse (

By the very act of reading a book and more so by rendering my reading and interpretation into a review, am I simply collapsing the distribution of possible interpretations that were built into the author’s creation of the book into a single measure of that book.

Ultimately this is a book which itself is acts as a proof of the assertion at the heart of Splice’s reason to exist which is “to attract adventurous readers to the innovative and unconventional works of literature that exists outside the publishing mainstream - works that usually come into being from writers and publishers involved in Britain’s community of small presses”.
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Reading Progress

September 27, 2018 – Shelved
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
October 22, 2018 – Started Reading
October 23, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018
October 23, 2018 – Finished Reading
January 14, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-republic-of-consciousness-long

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Paul Fulcher Great review (although I must have missed the wave function collapse lecture)

Paul Fulcher Incidentally I suspect the typos in the original may have been simply typos given the review I have seen that mentions them first sees them around the proof-reader story, but then admits there are typos throughout the book.

Marc Nash I'm currently reading it and enjoying its challenge. Didn't enjoy the alcoholic chapter, but all the ones preceding that I have loved.

Neil Your review is far more comprehensive and erudite than my own, but I think we are pretty much aligned. Will you re-read it? I think I will at some stage after the RoC list is done.

Gumble's Yard Yes I think I will particularly if the Slack discussions work.

Paul Fulcher It is the one book I do plan to re-read - although must admit I'm not particularly looking forward to the experience (and the re-read and re-re-read of last year's similar book just added to my view that it wasn't for me)

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