THE CHILDREN'S AUTHOR John Cunliffe told me he once wrote a story for an illustrated Postman Pat boardbook consisting of just twenty-seven words ... and that a third of those were 'Postman' or 'Pat'. Nice work if you can get it. The word-count in Alasdair Cray's new story collection is somewhat higher - at around 25,000 - but that's still pretty slim pickings for a £12 hardback. They seem slimmer still when you consider that this is his first book of fiction in seven years. Size isn't everything, of course. One writer can say more in a single well-crafted sentence than another might manage in ten pages. And many masterpieces have been produced in the short form - just look at the work of miniaturists such as Borges and. Carver. So when a novelist of Cray's pedigree offers up thirteen pieces (some no more than a couple of pages long) it is only fair to judge them on quahty rather than quantity. Sadly, even by this reckoning, The Ends of Their Tethers is a disappointment. I say 'sadly' because I am an admirer of Cray's - Lanark, his first novel, is a modern classic, and with 1982 Janine and other works he has established himself as one of the most gifted and innovative writers of his generation. I so wanted to like this new book.
Let me point out the best stories. My favourite is 'Aiblins', in which the narrator, a creative-writing tutor, 'discovers' a young, enigmatic poet whose work has the hallmark of genius. But Luke Aiblins is so assured, so critically self-aware and so mocking of his tutor's attempts to critique the poems