Firstly, a huge thank you to Simon for sending me a copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review.
Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them.Peel back the mask and see.GoodReads
CW: Racism, racist language, homophobia, homophobic language, anti-semitism, incest, sexual abuse
This collection of short stories is one of the most unique I have read for a while. Each short story focuses on a snapshot in time of a particular famous, or infamous, person. The twist being, it isn’t necessarily obvious who each of the short stories are about. Now, I’m in my 20s and I was able to figure out most of the 14 without much issue but there were some that required some detective work (thank you to Zoe’s Book Nook for giving me some hints!). Each story felt like a modernist, biographical, take on Tales of the Unexpected. The penny drop moment which can come at varying points whilst reading the short story was always incredibly satisfying and demonstrates the range of Van der Velde’s talents and understanding of his chosen subjects.
Regardless of whether you immediately grasp who each story is about or not, Van der Velde’s dialogues and descriptions are very well written and often depict a moment of prejudice against the character (out of many that they would have experienced in their lives) and how this contributed to growing into the person that they become, either for better or worse. As this is fiction rather than official biographies, I did wonder if a couple of the stories were a little too trivialised. Like with most short story collections I found that some stories were much stronger than others. In particular I really enjoyed Alien, Voiceless Child, Preserved in Amber and Tonight’s the Night among others.
However, what really struck me about this collection is how it felt like much more of an interactive experience than just reading. Each story is short enough that you can easily re-read them to piece together clues trying to figure out who the story is about if it wasn’t immediately clear to you the first time (in fact, most of the ones I did manage to work out myself were on a second reading!). There were even times where I had to put in more detective work and turn to trusty Google and then, lastly, my friends. It’s for these reasons I think that this book would be brilliant for book clubs. There is something for everyone and you can easily get some great discussions going, not just about who the story is about but how they are presented too.
Overall, this is a fun read that will keep you on your toes and get your brain working! I highly recommend that you grab yourself a copy; especially as 30% of all profits from Backstories sales are shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.