A City Burning – reactions

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.

A CITY BURNING  Order here

A Book of the Year 2020 on Nation Cymru and The Lonely Crowd.

Books of the Year 2020: Part One

“This is an exemplary collection illustrating the creative possibilities of the short fiction form” – Jane Fraser

“Angela Graham is a brilliant new voice. This is literature that deserves to last.” – Kate Hamer

“Angela Graham’s debut collection A City Burning announced a confident, stylish new voice in short fiction.” Jon Gower (Nation Cymru)

“In this powerful collection, Angela Graham shows herself master of the angle of vision: her tales capture the mercurial moment when a person’s world is changed forever, in a road or room, against a landscape, seascape or starscape, at the graveside or (as in the towering story, ‘Life-Task’) at a forsaken railway station in the aftermath of war.” – Stevie Davies

“These stories show us what the genre does best: the ‘snapshot’ of a moment which reveals a life or a culture in a moment of transition or realisation, what James Joyce called an ‘epiphany’. … This vivid, humane and beautifully-controlled collection suggests Angela Graham is another name to watch.”  – Prof Diana Wallace

“Good writing is compelling. Each of these twenty-six stories takes you out of your own skin and into the lived experience of another… The writing is sparse. Every word is telling… But there’s also lyricism, a feel for the rhythm of speech and an ability to capture natural beauty… These stories are not comfortable… but they are honest, searing, insightful and very, very good.” – Inez Lynn (New City Magazine)

“The Road is, appropriately, the opening story in this collection and by following that road we enter the world of Angela Graham… The characters are well drawn and their stories entice and intrigue. as a collection it is to be highly recommended.” – Graham Reid

“What fires the attention is Graham’s mastery of language and her ear for local speech of both the poetic and prosaic kind. Her experimentation with Ulster Scots in particular points to a new talent in Irish writing making us look afresh at our often shared predicaments and take consolation in the landscapes and people around us.” Dr Frank Ferguson (Northern Slant)

“This is an exemplary collection illustrating the creative possibilities of the short fiction form… All the stories allowed me to feel the emotional intensity of a range of characters as they stand at pivotal moments in their lives in the aftermath of personal tragedy. This is due, I believe, to the innate understanding that Graham has for the ‘stuff’ of the short story: suggestion rather than statement; rising tension rather than high drama; the power of the unsaid; and the realisation that endings are not neat and tidy and tied up.! Jane Fraser (The Lonely Crowd)

A City Burning is an impressive kaleidoscope of landscape and language. Angela Graham’s short stories move rhythmically between Wales, Ireland and Italy, provoking conversation through their poetic score. ‘Acting Abby’, a play within a play, is a particular triumph and one sentence in this story serves as a metaphor for the book: ‘an invisible finger glides across the curtain like a harpist’s, releasing a ripple of movement.’ The movement is a little thought, a shift in perception as each story draws to an end.” – Angeline King

“A City Burning lays out an assortment of characters all bound by one searing similarity. Caught in crises, torn between ideologies, religions and moralities, and faced with the disarming prospect of transformation, Graham expertly captures the lives of ordinary people burdened by extraordinary circumstances.” Gemma Pearson (Wales Arts Review)

“This collection of short stories shows people dealing with pivotal points in their lives – when a brief spotlight of ‘now’ illuminates rich outlines of past causes and future consequences. The tone of each piece is splendidly varied and immediate – the voices are distinct and idiosyncratic: each narrative requires the reader to recalibrate their expectations of its subjects – human, political or spiritual. It is, like all the very best brief narratives, a rich source of new perceptions and insights.” Sian Best

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. Some of these moments occur in mundane circumstances, others amidst tragedy or drama.

Waiting for the return of demoralized prisoners of war, an Italian is offered a shocking way to rebuild his world; on the Antrim coastline a man is pushed to the edge by the demons of his neurotic family; in the south Wales valleys during the pandemic a domiciliary carer flounders in the front line of the workers’ struggle. A teenager disheartened by a Covid future; a terrorist in love; a vindictive clergyman; an actor interrogating her role for light on her own hampered life. They are ordinary people caught at crisis point, each rendered with a fierce perception of injustice and brutality.

But there is lyricism too, wry humour and a sharp engagement with language – Italian, Ulster Scots, Welsh. As well as meeting protagonists in their own countries, we find the Irish in Italy, the Italians in Wales, the Welsh in Northern Ireland.

A cinematic sense of focus and place grounds the action: a dry-as-dust bookshop provides a sensual encounter stimulated by the dead; two young priests in a Vatican kitchen collide erotically; nemesis strikes − from the skies − in a hospital corridor.

With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types, exploring conflicts between political allegiances; between autonomy and intimacy; emotional display and concealment; resistance versus acceptance. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.

 

 

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