Communion Town by Sam Thompson

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Communion Town Longlisted for 2012 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: city, stories, imagined, diverge, voices

I’m not sure how this book ended up on the Booker longlist. The writing quality cannot be disputed, but this book is a collection of short stories and I don’t think you can argue that they are connected enough to justify status as a novel. All the stories are set in the same city, but that is where the connection ends. Characters do not reappear and I could not see any other link between them all. As a result I was disappointed by this book.

The first chapter was slow to start, but by the end I was completely hooked. SPOILER (highlight to read): People trapped underground with monsters!  Exciting premise for a Booker longlistee! Unfortunately that great story line was dropped, never to be mentioned again. There were a few other fantastic scenes sprinkled through the book, but they were never developed enough for me to care about any of the characters. I frequently found myself bored by entire sections and despite the beautiful writing I never rediscovered the excitement of that first chapter.

It was easy to read, containing a simple, but vivid writing style:

Blackness crept into the edges of my vision and I lashed out at the so-called doctor, colliding with him awkwardly shoulder-first and knocking him aside. Hunched against the wall, shaking, he cradled his phial. His face contorted and tears pressed from the corner of his eyes. I spun around and swung  my fists at the Captain, but he danced easily away, his hands billowing. He quivered with the effort of restraining himself. He couldn’t even speak any more.

Each chapter was slightly different in tone and some were very different in terms of content and genre. Everything from science fiction to crime, and even dark suspense, was included at some point, but rather than be impressed by the variety I just craved some consistency. I’m afraid I’m just not a fan of short stories. If Sam Thompson wrote a novel then I’d be keen to try it, but this was too disjointed for me.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a highly recommended book that offers an exquisite reading experience with its many voices in an imaginary city that vividly comes to life. Fantasy Book Critic

There were a few stories I didn’t care for at all, but for the most part, the writing carried throughout the stories I liked and didn’t like. Nomadreader

There are some truly beautiful speculative concepts to be unearthed here. Strange Horizons 

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  1. David says:

    I bought a copy of this one after it was longlisted but have been put off by some very negative reviews by posters on the (new) Booker forum. I’m wondering if I might actually read it as a collection of short stories, one a day, or would it not benefit from that? The idea of each chapter being in a different style/genre sounds interesting though collections of short stories that have so much variety can often lack cohesion and feel like a series of writing exercises.
    I have to say, that quote from it you’ve picked out doesn’t make me any keener to read it – with the exception of the “billowing’ hands it reminds me of the Star Trek tie-in novels I used to read in my teens!

    1. Jackie says:


      “I’m wondering if I might actually read it as a collection of short stories, one a day, or would it not benefit from that?”
      As I’m not a big fan of short stories I’m afraid I can’t really comment on that. I think you are right in that it could suffer from a lack of cohesion, but if you enjoy short stories then you may find enough to entertain you in each one. Perhaps they are best read in isolation, instead of as a collection?

      PS. Thanks for alerting me of the new Booker forum. I knew that they’d killed the old one, but I didn’t realise they had opened a new one *heads off to find it*

      1. David says:

        The new forum is located here: It’s been started by Trevor of the Mookse and Gripes blog. Most of the contributors to the old forum are on there.

        1. Jackie says:

          David, Thanks for the link. I saw him talk about its launch, but thought it was just for NYRB classics (which I’m not especially interested in) and so didn’t really look at it.

  2. stujallen says:

    Oh this does sound disappointing the mention of Calvino when it was announced caught my eye but since then every review I ve read isn’t so postive so think I ll give it a miss ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ve seen very mixed reviews for this book. It seems to be appealing to SF/fantasy lovers which is good because they normally don’t find anything to enjoy on the Booker list. I can see why you might want to avoid it though.

  3. nomadreader says:

    We had almost identical reactions to this one. I, too, loved the writing and the first story best (particularly its ending–I was so looking forward to perhaps getting multiple perspectives on the ending of that story). I’m also baffled it made its way onto the Booker longlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, The ending of that first story was fantastic – I’d love to read a whole book based around that. Glad to know I’m not alone in my reaction to this book. I’d love to know the series of events that lead to it making the Booker list.

  4. This is one of the few long-listed titles that piqued my interest. I love interconnected stories in a novel so am disappointed to hear it reads more like a collection of short stories. But, am equally excited to hear the writing is so good – will probably still read it just for that.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, This was the one I was most looking forward to reading – the comparisons to David Mitchell really grabbed my attention. It isn’t in the same league as Mitchell, but I hope that you enjoy reading it.

  5. Chinoiseries says:

    Gosh, now I’m not sure whether I’m going to read it. I’ve read too many short story collections lately and if there’s only a very loose connection between them…
    Thanks for the review, Jackie, now I know there’s no real hurry for me to read this “novel” :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Chinoiseries, At least I’ve let you know what to expect. Hope you enjoy your next book.

  6. Sey says:

    Don’t give up on short story collections. Some of the finest writing I’ve seen in a long time. BINONULAR VISION by Edith Pearlman. Woven together like a tapestry! Got rave reviews us a “find” and the lady has been writing only short fiction for years.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sey, I`m sure that I`ll enjoy short stories one day. I`ll keep your recommendation in mind.

  7. Jenners says:

    I highlighted the spoiler as I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to read it and I find it hard to believe that story line could be dropped!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I know! Such a shame as I’d love to know what happened next. Perhaps someone else will write a similar book soon.

  8. Alyce says:

    How odd that it was short stories instead of a novel. I have to be in the right mood for short stories – I definitely go through phases of interest and disinterest. I will admit that science fiction short stories have always appealed to me more than any other sort.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, Science fiction short stories almost always appeal to me more too. I hope you enjoy this one if you decide to go for it.

  9. Lindsay says:

    I was initially attracted to this one, but the more I hear about it, the more I’m unsure if it’s one for me. Thanks for the honest review. I couldn’t resist peeking at the spoiler :)

  10. Gemma says:

    THANK YOU for hiding the spoilers! It is so easy to accidentally read them and this book is on my TBR pile so it would have spoiled it for me!

    I agree with what you say in that a collection of short stories should not really be on the Booker longlist, but then I think the Booker Prize likes to challenge the concept of the novel. People got a little upset when Wolf Hall won, because historical fiction isn’t pure fiction. But I think a book of short stories is stretching the idea of the novel a little too far though.

  11. Kathleen says:

    I always seem to struggle with short story collections but it sounds like there a few interesting ones in this collection but I do find it odd that it made the Booker list.


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