Have you ever driven down the motorway and passed a line of lorries — all different shapes and sizes, a heavy laden one at the back, a small one at the front, a variety of length and height to your left as you pass? Their order is a function of their speed — which is a function of their engine, limiter and their cargo. If they dropped something off earlier, they can go faster, despite the limiter. It is this which decides who can crawl in front of the other in the lane in which you’re passing. Sometimes it feels like large vehicles are endlessly overtaking each other. But occasionally you come across a long line of vehicles in the right order, who have sorted themselves out already. Do they know that they’re all running an optimal snake of cargo down the motorway, does it warm their cockles in their cabs? It warms mine as I pass, knowing that sometimes little things in the world form a perfect order.
Attrib by Eley Williams is a little like this. Something satisfyingly complete in the world, presented to you as a kind of puzzle of perfectly interlocking ideas through extending metaphor.
Every story, in some way, deals with the way that we all tell stories about ourselves to become real. Each is a negotiation with itself and the author, a hypothesis presented tentatively: a dream of a version of Timbuktu which can’t possibly happen, a Ortolan chef who looks for language to take the scalding of judgement out of the perception of his illicit work, or the finding of serviceable words for the aphasia sufferer of opening story Alphabet.
Attrib., the title story of the collection covers the musing of a Foley artist (hey, I did a tiny bit of field recording over here btw) developing the soundscapes for a gallery’s show of renaissance art is about the balancing of Adam and Eve — or rather, the imbalance. The story talks about the requirements of for The Creation of Adam — a specification which includes great fanfare, whereas Eve is only instructed to have some insipid, non-specific garden noises.
In this story the world around the artist talks to her incessantly, as things tend to:
Turning noise into language is the work of a Foley artist one assumes, and as Eve remains neglected and the artist unattributed. The frustration felt with the unfairness of the world is the kind of wavelength one finds themselves able to work out that the squeaky board says “Krakow” at night on the way to the bathroom. As the Foley artist makes something from nothing, a noise into language (or maybe, turning language in to noise) this mirrors the unfairness of Eve’s creation, she didn’t ask to be made, as much as the tree isn’t really saying “Lament.”
But then, that’s the point, this joyous use of language, flexible, clever and somehow completely true is the beauty in this book. Much like in Alphabet, where words are reached for for objects, and a satisfying construction is made instead of a mundane, accurate one:
“I held the hairbrush in front of me and trialled scalp-tufter after a few seconds of concentration”
All of it is written in a way of performance, demanding to be read aloud. Rhyming couplets run throughout, and sometimes the language bursts it’s banks running away beautifully like this:
I always think that it is only those who truly love their language who are kind enough to it to set it free — to know there’s really no right word, not correct way to say it, just the way you want to say it. The meaning conveyed, however crassly romantic it is, through the combination and bending of expectation, rather than meeting it.
Attrib. fits on to my little shelf of books (although, only virtually currently) alongside like my favourite book of last year — Claire Louise Bennett’s POND (as well as David Mitchell’s Number9Dream and Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson to name a couple more) in a section I reserve for books to read to make you write. It’s a small, strange pile, but these are the books which I crack open again begin reading, and then end up putting down — as it occurs to me that I should be writing.
You can buy a copy of Attrib. by Eley Williams from Influx Press, who kindly provided me with a ebook copy to aide this review.
Meghan McClure has a couple of lovely poems in Split Lip magazine:
They’re sharp ornaments, the kind of thing you’d like to carry around in your back pocket for times you’re caught on unsafe streets.
Also, this mix for some reason: (warning, they talk about butts)
Thanks for reading this week’s Etch To Their Own — I was really nervous writing this one as it turns out @GiantRatSumatra is aware that I’m writing bad words about her book of good words. As always, Etch To Their Own was written by a really sleepy @CJEggett and proofread by no one. If you spot a typo, want me to read a thing you wrote, or just want to take moment to point out I am a lot taller than I sound in writing — please feel free to @ me or reply to this email. If you have friends who might like this sort of thing, please send it on, or get them to sign up here. If you missed the last 9 issues you can catch up with them over here. You’re all beautiful people and it is an honour to be cursing your inbox for another week.