Arthur Chappell

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BOOK REVIEW – GEOFF RYMAN – 253 1998 FLAMINGO PRESS

 

A unique collection of inter-connected short stories set entirely on a London Underground tube train, on the Bakerloo line. The title refers to the number of passengers on board the train, including the driver and a stray pigeon, and ultimately, the ghost of Anne Frank. 253 is also the number of stories in the book, each of which is exactly 253 words long, though the book also carries footnotes, made up adverts and useful maps of who is in each of the train’s carriages.

 

The stories vary from sad, to hysterical, to poignant, especially as early on we learn that the train is doomed to crash at journey’s end.

 

There are a group of failed arts buskers trying to practice lap sitting, who end up targeting the wrong passengers. There are passengers feeling suicidal, and others who feel like singing. Two policemen travel only briefly, intent on arresting another passenger as he leaves the train.

 

The funniest story is that of a man who’s foreskin has been grafted onto his nose following an accident, and his inability to cope with inevitable jokes referring to him as a literal dickhead.

 

The stories originally appeared as an Internet exercise and the book is still available they’re for free downloading, though it’s also handy to see the print edition. Te author invites readers to contribute stories to an online sequel about the fate of survivors and the trains delayed by the crash of this train. The stories never fail to entertain – flash fiction at its finest.

 

There are a few minor flaws, in there being no standing passengers, and every seat being fully occupied, something dew if any Tube train passengers will have experienced.

 

Passengers do get on and off at stops on route, and sometimes interact or react to one another’s behaviour, which creates a sense of a rolling community.

 

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