Apart from anything else I was quickly hooked by the title of Rolli’s recent collection of short fiction I Am Currently Working On A Novel. The self-consciousness of it appealed to me, and I settled down for what I thought would be a fun and diverting read. Having now completed the book, I can say that I definitely think it was – although maybe “fun” is the wrong word. The stories that fill the pages of I Am Currently Working On A Novel are frequently so dark and twisted that it almost seems wrong to like them.
These stories are short, many of them no longer than a couple of pages. They’re blunt too – Rolli’s style is anything but flowery. And yet there’s quite a range of voices on show. Many stories take the form of short monologues from a variety of fantastic characters. There’s a mermaid who’s been given legs by a famous plastic surgeon; the world’s worst actor psyching himself up in his dressing room; a soldier whose face has been blown off begging for a job; and the one time winner of the oddly-named competition “Miss Social Pleasurehole 1969”.
Rolli’s imagination is admirable, and his ability to make so much happen in so few words is deeply impressive. Each one of the stores in I Am Currently Working On A Novel is finely-crafted, a miniature triumph – but perhaps there’s room to talk about a few of my favourites.
“The Solemn Bicyclist” is a very short tale that adds a semi-religious resonance to the image of a man pedalling slowly along in the middle of the night. It manages to be funny whilst also being deadly serious, and it casts the bicycle as an object in an oddly wonderful light.
“We All Live In Sophie’s Closet” takes a moment of two to get used to. The story makes judicious use of ellipses and commas to create a disjointed, somewhat-deranged sounding voice for a narrator who has spent days – if not weeks – trapped in a cupboard, eating mothballs and praying for rescue.
“The Inheritance” begins with the narrator’s mother disappearing through the ceiling, ostensibly pulled upwards by God. The charming little story that follows makes no attempt to explain this strange occurrence – indeed, the narrator is much more concerned with trying to follow her than trying to bring her back.
And last but not least, the titular story “I Am Currently Working On A Novel” bears a mention. It is short, sweet, and has more akin with a joke than a story, but it’s an entry to this collection that I’m sure anyone who has ever even attempted to write a novel will certainly appreciate.
There are, of course, many more stories in the collection that I wish I could highlight, but if I were to mention each and every one that I enjoyed you’d be sitting here reading all day. Your time would be much better spent getting hold of a copy of I Am Currently Working On A Novel for yourself. Rolli is a talented storyteller, and this effort of his is almost bound to touch your brain in interesting ways.
Christopher Frost now lives in Stoke-on-Trent, after studying at nearby Keele University. He is a freelance writer, and spends most of his time working for a local charity. In his spare moments he reads furiously, and writes book reviews.