Reviews of Oblivious

The following are reviews that Oblivious has gathered so far in its existence, as a collection:

J. Everington, Great short stories…

I stumbled across this self-published (I presume) collection of short stories somewhere on the forums… There was a comparison made to Raymond Carver. Oh god, I thought, yet another writer who doesn’t really understand why Carver was so good…

Well, guess what? I suspect Neil Schiller DOES know why. Obviously this isn’t as good as Carver, but it is really very good, and in a similar style. The stories here touch on themes of depression, angst, divource, music & memory and illness. But the writing itself is stylish and and stops the whole thing becoming too drab and downbeat.

My favourite is ‘Fugue’ about a stag-do in a drab seaside town, but I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the stories here. A real lucky find, and at less than a quid a bargin.

Dan Holloway, Quietly dazzling

I came across Neil Schiller’s work a month or so back now, and have enjoyed dancing around the subjects of Bukowski and the Beats in the forums with him. Reading the work of people you have got to know is always a risky business, because as a reviewer you must be honest, and knowing someone you must be decent. But, 1. I had resolved to read and review this before I knew anything about the man behind it, and 2. a good writer and a good person will never mind honesty.

Thankfully there is absolutely no cause for worry, because this collection is stunning. What Schiller does best is understatement. There is a quiet confidence in his prose, a simplicity, a levelness of tone that covers a depth and complexity of emotional content that is quite dazzling. This is the kind of writing I love, because it deals with life in all its messiness, but it does so without ever going down the road of bleakness and despair. it does justice to life’s complexity but it does so without ever falling into the trap of “needing a good edit”.

Thoroughly thoroughly recommended.

Maria Savva, A fly on the wall look at ordinary lives

This is a wonderful collection of short stories. I enjoyed the sparse prose, the evocative description, and the fact that although the stories are all about different people, male and female, they could almost merge into one. All the main characters are struggling in some way. The themes of difficult family relationships, addiction, regret, depression, guilt, repeat themselves over and over. Schiller has created real characters; these could be people you pass in the street. Schiller has stripped away the layers that ordinary people use to hide their true circumstances or feelings, and gone beneath to examine and reveal the underbelly of human nature. We are taken right inside the characters’ homes, hearts, and minds. Schiller has mastered the art of short story and likes to show off about it too. He has included a one sentence story, `Trapped’, and a half a page story, `Half’–both of which are perfect–and the latter is one of my favourites in the collection.

The descriptive prose is fresh and original. An example of his writing, from, `Brand Awareness’, a story about a man facing redundancy: “I’ve squandered six years of my life on this job. More if you count the myriad of spoiled hopes it pulled into the swirling vortex of its black heart. I’ve commuted over twelve thousand miles; I’ve missed my daughter’s first steps, first words, first school play; I’ve worked and slept and stressed myself into an isolation around which my wife has built a new life to compensate. And it was all for nothing.”

And from, `Sabotage’, about a man estranged from his young son. “In the midst of the other families, in the kinetic frenzy and shrill excitement of the afternoon, we are silent and desperate and miserable. A dark stain on the gaiety of life. Two broken pilings of rock in a glinting sea of youthful energy.”
There is much more where that came from in this fabulous collection.

This is a book that will give you a fly on the wall look at ordinary lives and the common scars and ties that bind us. It will reveal to you the hidden side of life, the side most people will never reveal, and of which we are usually ‘oblivious’.

Highly recommended

Gingerlily, Atmospherics in gray

I bought this book because the proceeds were going to charity, and I had no great expections of it, nor had I much of an idea what I was getting. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have bought it, and I would have missed out on something well worth reading.

This is not an easy fun read… I usually read very fast and wait until I have finished to absorb the meaning , but with this book I couldn’t do that. I found myself stopping after each story to let it sink in, and I could only read two or three at a time. This is partly because they are quite gray and gloomy in mood, but also because there is so much more in them than the bare words. The writing is very economical, and never explains when it can suggest and leave you to fill in the gaps. The atmosphere was there from the start, but gradually a theme emerged, of relationships that are not working , and people who have given up. There is not a lot of hope here. There is despair, or desparation, or apathy, but no suggestion that the characters can find a way out, or even that they are looking for one any more.

I loved that language that I found here – several times going back to savour a phrase or sentence and enjoy the sound and sense of it. In one place there was one plain short sentence, followed by one that was beautifully rich and expressive, that stayed with me for a long time ‘I don’t know what happened. Eighteen years circled round me like some elliptical predator and herded me through a twisting labyrinth of snap decisions and arbitary career choices.’ I feel like that sentence, and in fact the whole book, took me on a journey through several lives of darkness and I emerged blinking into the light of day at the other end.

Mark McKenna, “Oblivious” is powerful writing

When I started Oblivious I didn’t know what to expect. I’d met Neil Schiller online and we exchanged books, promising to read and review each other’s work. But when I began reading Oblivious I was put off. The book was bleak, dismal. It’s characters were simmering in a stew of doomed sexual passion; they were buried in meaningless work; it was always raining, or about to rain; his characters said things I thought, but would never say —

I didn’t really like the book. But I couldn’t stop reading it.

About halfway through I flashed on the first ten pages of No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I’d re-read McCarthy’s opening pages three or four times because I couldn’t believe he’d achieved so much power in his description (a desert landscape with impending mayhem) in so few words. I felt like I was watching a magician do a trick right in front of me — and I was making him do it over and over again.

I realized I was getting the same feeling from Schiller’s prose. Neil Schiller bares his characters’ souls giving the reader sparse, powerful, unflinching views into their darkest moments. And mayhem is always lurking just below, threatening to explode.

It’s not easy to read. Try this:

“This is how we live. There are two sides to the equation of our lives and I can’t figure out the variable that keeps changing. At any point the end product is risotto, or sex, or self harm. And when she damages herself, she usually takes a portion of the house with her. My antique clock, my grandfather’s clock, sits awkwardly in its nook in the hallway. Its hands are broken off and it snatches glances at me through its shattered glass dome like a wounded animal I don’t have the nerve to finish off. It paid the price for a strained pleasantry. My wife mixed up a sentence while Ethan was grabbing his coat. She watched from the end of the driveway. I smiled and a century of time stopped forever.

‘She’s stalking me. That fucking bitch is stalking me.’ ”

Or this:

“There are icicle lights hanging from the front of the house from last Christmas.

‘Your father’s still at work.’

My father is eight feet down beneath a simple stone plinth and a solid tombstone sky. Peter is out at work. We’ve all passed thirty and she still insists we call him dad.”

I could have picked almost any paragraph. This is powerful writing. We all go through it at some point, we all feel it. Anger. Rage. Despair. We question, “What am I doing?” “How did I get here?” “What do I do now?” The mirror doesn’t have a lot to say.

Neil Schiller went through it and he took notes. Oblivious is a collection worth reading. Neil Schiller is name worth remembering. Good stuff.

Iain Manson, click here to see review

The following reviews are of specific stories:

Sorry

“I really enjoyed this story, from the cast of characters, to the set up over old photographs, to the father-son relationship that arose. You’ve captured a very real and heart-tugging situation — specifically the relationship between father and son. The image of the little boy standing next to his father, smiling, dressed just like him — but with the father’s missing smile — was a haunting image that seemed to really encapsulate their entire relationship. The “pissing her off” ending was a perfect balance of levity, as well. I’ll look for more from you.”

“There is a rhythm to the prose, good and appropriate, metaphors and similes – Damn good stuff. It made me cry -a knowledge and study of subtle human mannerisms. It flows along, you write well.”

“The success of this story lies in the fact that the darkness of the parents didn’t destroy the playfulness of the narrator. That’s why I love the last line so much – it shows the spirit of the narrator and rescues an otherwise dark tale.  I think it’s perfect the way it stands.”

You

“This beautiful account held me with my own memories. It’s never easy to write fluidly in the second person – and you managed it superbly well – a perfect voice for such an emotive, universal theme.  And yet equally, the story is your story, not ours.  Its intimacy is a peek through a narrow crack. I was most struck by your handling of the shock – the swimming of the room, the magnification, the overlooked whiskers. I remember my own father saying to the doctor:  ‘I’m afraid my daughter won’t be happy to hear this, but I’d rather not be made well.’  I’d wanted to tell him it was his choice; but as I tried to do so, I couldn’t.  I can see their postures now – the image will never leave me and I’m sure if I look closely, I’d see similar details to those you describe. That passage for me grounded the entire story in authenticity.”

“That was so intense and pure and filled with imagery that pulled me back into the space of my own father’s death…the guilt, the attempts to halt the cancer, the great abyss which sucked us all into its foyer to stand there and gasp and wonder at the meaning of it all.   Difficult to read only because I have been there.  Difficult to let go and yet, it is incredibly pure. Thanks for going there. Your imagery is genius.”

Oblivious

“With stories of this length I like to read them out semi-loud to get a feel for rhythm and mood. This one had me in the same grey place of the narrator. I can’t say I liked being there, but that’s how good this story was. I couldn’t get out until I was done.”

“This left me breathless…it had an eerie washed out feel like all the world was grey.  I don’t know what else to say besides this is brilliant!”

The Anarchist

“I found this story deeply involving and your character beautifully drawn. It unsettled me, and distressed me.  But I feel that both the sense of resignation and the insanity of exhausted patience that you crafted in the fiction was intentional and articulated with finesse, so I read to the end.  It was a perfect ending.  You left us just before we could find the tragedy too painful to endure, neatly avoiding any risk that we might sentimentalise it. It’s not for me the kind of story I would tend to seek out to read.  I guess I sense that I’m a million miles away from this cultural experience – but that is one of the most enriching features of it.  You open my eyes to each facet of the carefully drawn man – his resentment for the trap of parenthood, his illusion of freedom in service, the hounding of racism, the slur of victimisation – and above all, the discharge of anger.  It fascinated me.  You address emotions that I fear to consider, shamefully, and no doubt it enriches me to explore them.”

Inside Out

“Most writings lull the reader into the sense of security that this is only fiction. Your writing does not allow for that. It hits too close for home no matter who you are. It shows people traces of the part of themselves they would rather ignore.”

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