Book Review: Snapshots of the Apocalypse // Katy Wimhurst

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Short stories are frequently overlooked. The papers are often splayed with advertorials earnestly declaring this or that novel to be the next great literary masterpiece. Even stolid non-fiction tomes are never absent from mention.

The short story, when done well, is one of the pinnacles of fiction writing, for it takes a skilled pen to sketch out a character in just a few lines, or to create a world in a single observation. This is why publishers such as Fly on the Wall Press are needed, as they champion great collections of short stories, such as Katy Wimhurst’s piercing, dark and wry collection, Snapshots of The Apocalypse. Thus collection cuts across genres to focus on what the end of the world means, from expulsion from a flat-sized Eden to the unravelling of the very threads of reality.

As a collection, there is a continuous sense of forensic critique of our present world, yet each story feels fresh and at no point does Wimhurst rehash the same themes in different guises. As such it is unnecessary to examine each story here. Instead, it is worth highlighting how the breadth of the collection permits it to reveal even the most hairline of fractures, that pervade our world.

Yet it would be wrong to suggest that Wimhurst luxuriates in despair, for there is both humour and a nostalgic sense of place. Indeed, the final story at first seems to be a descent into apathy and indifference to decline, but ends with the protagonist accepting what is wrong and so actively taking a step away from it.  

There are many details in Snapshots of The Apocalypse that might warrant a closer look, and I am very tempted to fill this review with praise for ‘The Wings of Digging’, but then I do have a soft spot for stories about archaeologists, and anyway, it would be a distraction from the timely consideration of how those perceived to be ‘Other’ are treated. So, I will limit myself to picking out just one titbit of Wimhurst’s sublime blending of wit and critique.  

In the titular story ‘Snapshots of The Apocalypse’, each rain is officially named after a former PM. It is at once a humorous take on the idea that all Brits talk about is the weather, combined with the all too realistic idea that in the face of an apocalypse, officialdom would rather spend time naming types of rain.

The description of ‘Johnson’ rain as being “deceptively lightweight but [that] soaked you through-and-through” is rather apt for a PM who is so often indulged for his clownish lightness. Other rains are momentarily heartening, such as the ‘Rashford’, yet ultimately dispiriting in the realisation that a world can be conceived in which the people in power actually tried to improve things, yet society still crumbled.

It is not what the stories do but how it is done that deserves attention. Wimhurst’s prose is lucid and naturalistic in speech, but that alone is not the remarkable thing. For in each story there is a clarity of voice that could even be mistaken for a myriad of writers. This voice is paired with a keen eye for small details that gives a verisimilitude that belies the otherness of these speculative worlds, for they do not feel fantastical, merely just beyond the present understanding of reality.

That is why they stay with me. They are fragmentary images from the uncanny, yet fully fleshed out with a mundanity that provides a universality of tone.

Words by Ed Bedford

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