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The Coiled Serpent by Camilla Grudova review – unsettling short stories of grimy austerity

This short story collection refuses to gloss over the bleak reality of years of austerity

The Coiled Serpent by Camilla Grudova is out now (Atlantic Books, £14.99)

What does it take for an author to be named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists? In Camilla Grudova’s case, it is clearly not a romanticisation of Blighty that has earned her recognition. Her body of writing offers far-from-pleasing depictions of a nation, or its miserable citizens.

Beginning with the story collection The Doll’s Alphabet to her horror novel, Children of Paradise – located in a haunted cinema falling into disrepair – to this year’s collection of stories The Coiled Serpent, her work is best described as a smear on Britain.  

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These pages are filled with school boys who will never leave their institutional lodgings, girls forced to work under egregious conditions, and grim lodgings that quickly turn nightmarish. There is a continuous sense of inevitability to the suffering in each story, one which feels infuriatingly familiar to those stuck in the daily grind. The Coiled Serpent refuses to gloss over the grimy reality of years of austerity with Grudova’s signature abstract flair.

This is not a collection that offers answers to the mysteries it sets out, choosing to dwell in the absurd and uncertain. But one can be certain that Grudova is unafraid of abjection: The Coiled Serpent repeatedly repulsing the reader with her imagery of semen, faeces and mysterious green substances oozing out of sinks, leaving no space for pride in this nation. Grudova’s latest collection leaves a sticky residue. 

Billie Walker is a freelance journalist

The Coiled Serpent by Camilla Grudova is out now (Atlantic Books, £14.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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