In his first collection of short stories, poet and novelist Thorpe explores the lives of his characters through the work that they do. The first-person confessionals include a Ghanaian immigrant with an identity crisis; a bin-man uncovering spooky filth; and a death caused by Verlaine's cigar butt.
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Shifts, Adam Thorpe's first collection of short stories, appearing in the wake of three novels, Ulverton, Still, and Pieces of Light, and three volumes of poetry, including From the Neanderthal, takes as its premise the fact that what we do has a bearing on what we are, that work is what defines and shapes us. The 12 stories here are all first-person narratives, and range widely in time and place: from the memories of an English bin-man to an Australian mason struggling for employment in France, from the tribulations of a Ghanaian immigrant in 1960s London to sawmill workers in post-independence Congo. Thorpe displays an almost virtuoso ability for mimicry, for the idiosyncratic cadences and rhythms of speech and the way in which the cant and argot of the workplace seeps into the vocabulary and metaphorical reach of the protagonists, as in the story "Glass":
Her face was all sour. More and more she looks like her mum, with her hair rolled up like that, and the parting. You can see her bare skin in the parting. Like its been engraved. Like her head is smoked glass and I've taken a sand-engraver to it. Or brushed a line of my hot glue mixture, ripping it off when it's hard.This is not just a series of exercises in ventriloquism: Thorpe, ever aware of the social contexts beyond the localised perspectives of the individual, illuminates issues of racism and class, the legacy of war and imperialism, the relationships between men and women, and how the facts of work affect partners and families, through the tensions and releases of what people choose or are forced to do for a living. This, however, is never at the expense of good storytelling or the human dramas of everyday life--the tales are by turns poignant and witty, tragic and epiphanic, always revelatory of the complex humanity that lies behind each social facade. -- Burhan Tufail
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Book Description Trafalgar Square, 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0099284316