In 2010's Even The Dogs, omniscient narrators hovered over the action, binding the various characters together. In this collection of 30 short stories, written over a number of years, there is no over-arching plan, but nearly all of them are set in the Lincolnshire Fens, giving them a tenuous feeling of unity.
There are some outstanding stories here, as one would expect from one of the most exciting British novelists to emerge in the past decade. Wires, which begins with a jolt, ends with a threat approaching from a completely different direction. The opening story, In Winter The Sky, set on reclaimed land which has "no history", shows us a 17-year-old guy who knocks down and kills a pedestrian on his way home from seeing a new girlfriend, an event that defines their relationship from then on. There are memorable stories about a vicar's wife having to endure the consequences of her husband's generosity and a father whose injunction to keep away from his family can't stop him from trying to attend his daughter's nativity play.
In fact, leafing back through the pages, I found many more excellent stories than I'd remembered, for two reasons. First, there's the bleakness that pervades the book, from the grim, wet and uninspiring landscape to the sense of apocalyptic dread that reveals itself in such imagery as the sea rising up to swallow the land, planes practice- bombing a beach and a secret report about the setting-up of a survivalist camp. Second, several of these stories are quite experimental in nature, one comprising only the footnotes of an investigation, another (The Remains) being a poetic exercise in repetition, and so on.
This collection is perhaps best taken a story at a time, as the mood of sustained tension combined with McGregor's literary experimentation can have a wearying effect and actually detract from the more engaging stories. But McGregor is supremely skilled at evoking it, with prose that's poetic and precise.
THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU
Jon McGregor, Bloomsbury, £7.99