Book Review: The Wooden Hill by Jamie Guiney

The Wooden HillAbout the Book

As we climb the wooden hill to bed each night we trace our life’s journey from birth, then each step toward death, the final sleep.

This collection of short stories, by Jamie Guiney, explores what it is to be human at every stage of life, from the imminence of a new birth in ‘We Knew You Before You Were Born’, through to adolescence and the camaraderie of youthful friendships as portrayed in ‘Sam Watson & The Penny World Cup’.

Ultimately, all of our lives stride towards old age and the certainty of death, as poignantly evoked in the title story, ‘The Wooden Hill’.

Format: Paperback (176 pp.)    Publisher: époque press
Published: 30th November 2018   Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

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My Review

Although I was drawn to some of the stories in this collection more than others (as is often the way with short story collections), I found something to admire in all of them: a thoughtful idea, a descriptive phrase, an imaginative metaphor or something that provoked a personal memory.  I also enjoyed the use of different points of view – first, second and third person – to provide variety.

If pushed to pick favourites, I’d probably go for the touching ‘We Knew You Before You Were Born’ and the deeply felt and lyrical ‘She Will Be My Joy’ – which just goes to prove what an incurable old romantic I am.  Other highlights:

  • ‘Peas’ – a Christmas Eve ritual, including Dad watching a film version of what sounds to me like A Christmas Carol (an annual favourite of mine)
  • ‘Sam Watson and the Penny World Cup’ – featuring the weekly ritual of ‘mushy tomato soup’ (it was tomato soup with baked beans in our house) followed by a visit to the local sweet shop, requiring the thoughtful allocation of pocket money worthy of a Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • ‘The Cowboy’ – in which what seems like a tall tale proves to be possibly dark reality
  • ‘Window’ – slight in length but full of impact with an unsettling atmosphere
  • ‘Ultreia’ – descriptive and reflective and which conjured up for me thoughts of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • ‘Christmas’ – heart-warming but tinged with melancholy

I also enjoyed the imaginative use of language to describe objects, landscape and weather.   A few examples:

‘Night birthed its morning.’
‘The clothesline is dancing.  A tiny, imaginary tightrope walker is stepping amongst the pegs.’
‘Notice the awakening sky, its slow yawn into pastel blue, its broad halo of orange and yellow.’
‘It was a hot smudge of an afternoon…’
‘Winter’s raw exhale flogs his face and body.’   

Although the title of the collection evokes the childhood phrase ‘up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire’, the stories in The Wooden Hill are definitely not bedtime stories.  They explore all aspects of our lives from ‘cradle to grave’: coming to terms with confusing or unfamiliar feelings, testing boundaries, bonds of friendship and shared experiences, romantic and familial love, fear and loss.  The stories chart the steps we all take in life – tentative sometimes, requiring a firm hold of the banister on occasions or a gentle push from behind to get us to the next step.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of publishers, époque press.

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In three words: Intriguing, imaginative, thoughtful

Try something similar…Happiness is a Collage by Gita V. Reddy (read my review here)

Jamie GuineyAbout the Author

Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His debut short story collection The Wooden Hill is due for publication in 2018 with époque press. Jamie’s short stories have been published internationally and he has been nominated twice for the ‘The Pushcart Prize.’

Jamie is a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and has twice been a judge for short story competition ‘The New Rose Prize.’ His work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards.

Jamie favours the short story genre, believing it to be the closest written prose to the traditional art of storytelling. [Photo credit: Goodreads author page]

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