In the current global climate, I can think of no better title for a book than Escape Routes! My enormous thanks to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for a surprise copy of Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro in return for an honest review.
Published by Headline imprint Tinder Press on 6th February 2020, Escape Routes is available for purchase through the links here.
Characterised by its own brand of pleasingly unsettling magic, Naomi Ishiguro’s Escape Routes matches the inventiveness of David Mitchell with the fairy-tale allure of Angela Carter.
A space-obsessed child conjures up a vortex in his mother’s airing cupboard. A musician finds her friendship with a flock of birds opens up unexpected possibilities. A rat catcher, summoned to a decaying royal palace, is plunged into a battle for the throne of a ruined kingdom. Two newlyweds find themselves inhibited by the arrival in their lives of an outsized and watchful stuffed bear.
Whether snared in traps artfully laid for them, or those of their own making, the characters in Naomi Ishiguro’s delightfully speculative debut collection yearn for freedom and flight, and find their worlds transformed beyond their wildest imaginings.
My Review of Escape Routes
A collection of innovative short stories.
It’s going to be impossible to define Escape Routes easily as Naomi Ishiguro’s writing transcends genre, blending and mixing both recognisable and intangible new elements into something fresh, innovative and bewitching. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection which took me several days to read because I found the stories intense and needed to savour and absorb them, giving them the attention they so richly merit.
Reading Escape Routes is a bit like watching the world through a distorted lens. So much of literary history and tradition seems to lurk below the surface, with echoes perhaps of Mary Shelley or Dickens, but as I read, those allusions and connections seemed transient so that it felt like a brief glimpse of a half remembered dream. I thought this effect was just brilliant. I have no idea if that is what the author intended, but it makes for an intriguing and frequently unsettling read. There’s a mystical, magical atmosphere to the stories with a layer of evil in many that echoes traditional fairy or tales or morality stories.
Each individual story, including the three part The Rat Catcher, is a total gem, being carefully crafted, peopled with vibrant and varied characters and plotted with surgical precision so that the endings are surprising and enormously entertaining. Themes of identity, loneliness and being ensnared, swirl like the frequently menacing birds that often feature too. I think the first story in Escape Routes, Wizards, was the one I enjoyed the most, partly because it sets the scene for the theme of inadequacy that so many characters feel, and partly because I felt the greatest emotional connection through Naomi Ishiguro’s wonderful writing.
So many of the characters display beautifully articulated traits that readers will recognise and empathise with. Whilst I loathed Evgeny in Accelerate, I thought his spiral into fragmentation was superbly illustrated by the writing, especially when punctuation was used sparingly so that the mechanics of the text reflected the experience of the character. Many of the characters are ever so slightly absurd too so that it is possible to laugh at them or, in fact, with them. Indeed, despite the darkness of many of the stories, there’s humour and lightness of touch too. I thought the whole collection was so well chosen and balanced, especially with the way The Rat Catcher was split into three parts across the other stories.
Imaginative, unsettling and with a magical undercurrent Escape Routes is a fascinating collection. It is wonderfully entertaining, surprising and just the right amount of. disturbing. I really recommend it.
About Naomi Ishiguro
Naomi Ishiguro studied writing at the University of East Anglia and is a former bookseller and bibliotherapist at Mr B.’s Emporium in Bath. She lives in London.
You can follow Naomi on Twitter @NaomiIshiguro.