Nineteen stories make up this hip fiction anthology, ranging from the deeply macabre to light vignettes of contemporary life, odd glimpses into a variety of topics. What binds them together in one book is not their content but their authors. Written by seventeen different artists from Britain, these stories were penned by people who do not write for a living. Some have writing experience—journalism for art magazines or in curatorial positions, for example—but most offer their words as a sort of raw foray into the world of literature. As a concept, The Alpine Fantasy of Victor B is certainly very interesting, and while it isn’t always a pleasing read, much like contemporary art, it is often the idea that is most important.
While it is true that a concept or use of a literary idea is certainly important, a story’s delivery and readability ultimately has to take precedence. Irvine Welsh, for example, has written his novels based on a literary concept—writing in the Scottish dialect—but because his sense of literature is so refined and his ability to provide flowing, readable text is maintained throughout, the concept is carried on the strength of his writing. Because many of the stories here lack a basic level of readability, unfortunately unaided by the anthology’s editors, it’s too easy to dislike some of the stories. “The Beginning of the World is Afar” by Jake Chapman, for one, refuses to use the word, “and”, instead substituting “plus”. Cerebrally, that may be an interesting experiment, but it reads very poorly and the story, as a result, suffers. This anthology has a number of stories that are challenging to get through, simply because they are similar experiments, experiments not grounded in a solid background of literature. They stutter and rely on clichéd writing and hackneyed, uninspired, textbook use of figures of speech. That said, tucked in among the pages of this book are quite a few gems.
“Breakfast at the Beauty Spot” by Polly Gould, for example, is a great little story, a glance into the lives of a passionate couple—or dispassionate, as the mood may take them—having a conversation about a current news story over breakfast. Gould sees the scene in sharp clarity, and she uses words to convey images to the reader with a dexterity that many full-time authors might envy. Vivid expression of the visual plane is a trait that surfaces again and again throughout the collection, obviously a reflection of each artist’s intense connection to the visual world. The collection’s opener, “Chatterbox” by Balraj Khanna, is another gem, a vignette about the chatty younger brother of a girl entertaining some of her friends. The title character fancies one of his sister’s friends and spends the story in a one-sided dialogue with her, trying everything he can to make her want him. It’s cute and touching and, best of all, splendidly written. Khanna’s dialogue immediately pulls you into the scene, and the punctuating descriptions of movement and setting offset the hilarious banter of the young boy.
Some of the stories (“SEDA—An Interesting Story,” “Towards the Heavenly Void,” and “The Road to Nowhere,” for example) are extremely well-written, not only employing good use of language and literary tools but also having that special quality which draws the reader in right up until the closing lines. But while a story like “SEDA” is indeed, as its title suggests, an interesting story well-composed, it’s not necessarily for everyone, perhaps lacking some vital insight into humanity that as you read you hope for. Instead, several of these stories are just that, stories.
Finally, the title story, “The Alpine Fantasy of Victor B” by Chris Hammond: the story follows the title character on a hike through the Swiss and Italian Alps as he pursues a dark, macabre fantasy. It’s not poorly written, but neither is it exceptional. Some of the aforementioned tales are far better composed and therefore perhaps should have taken the title role. However, it is admittedly a good and catchy title. Plus, it captures the visual slant of this book nicely, revelling in descriptions of the colors of alpine vistas. Victor is a disturbed man who feels—as many of us do—that the wild landscape should be his alone. But he crosses the line, taking action against any intruders in a sort of “American Psycho” meets “Sound of Music” mash-up.
Most of the authors published in this book should, and likely will, stay artists; at the same time, they should all keep writing. No doubt this book provided each artist with an opportunity to look at language in new light and, from there, take a new view back to their art. Perhaps, for a few of them, it illuminated an unforeseen talent for the written word and will prompt further forays into the world of literature.