-Reviewed by Claudia Haberberg-
The Liars’ League is a monthly live literature night held in central London, where actors read stories that have been written for the event. I specify this for those who, like me, are not particularly hip to the live literature scene. London Lies is a collection of stories by nineteen authors who have been showcased in the event’s six-year lifespan, and pays homage to the city where it has made its home.
There is a lot to be done with a theme of ‘London‘, even for those authors who do not live here. As someone who was born and brought up in London, and has lived there for the best part of 26 years, it would have been easy to take it somewhat personally if this collection had in any way failed to deliver. Luckily, this is one of the most enjoyable story collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading in several years.
It is clear that the Liars’ League is a select group. Each piece, lasting only a few pages, boasts a completeness that only an accomplished writer can achieve. The breadth of styles, settings and subject matter is excellent. We have repeat viewings of the same film; we have a ‘two blokes in a pub’ story gone horrifically wrong; we have a football riot and a street party of two; we have an apocalypse scenario and a mysterious plague. Many writers have published more than one story in this same book, and they are skilfully arranged – and written – so that we are never given a chance to tire of one person’s voice.
In some ways, the consistently high quality of London Lies makes it difficult to review. Every time I have sat down to start writing, I’ve wanted to highlight different stories. I will, however, begin with a constant favourite: as a lover of fairytales, I particularly enjoyed Emily Cleaver’s ‘The Frog’, a 21st century re-imagining of the story of the Frog Prince. It is, by turns, disturbing and sad, bringing some of the realities of modern dating into harsh relief. Several stories in this anthology are about romance and dating, but this was by far my favourite – like London, it is older than the hills at the same time as being new.
Those stories that are either faintly surreal, or introduce an element of the bizarre to an otherwise regular situation, are the ones that have stayed with me most easily. ‘The Escape’ (Cleaver again), in which an ordinary London market is introduced to the bull chases of Seville by a strange and ill-conceived prank, is one of the more memorable. ‘Rat’ (Liam Hogan), a story about talking rats, reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Pratchett, but the concept of every Londoner having a rat familiar was sweet and the twist in the tale was very well presented.
This is not to say that the more realistic stories are less impressive. There was something sweetly convincing about the idea of riot police turning up to a street party held in the rain (‘O Happy Day’, David Bausor); something thrilling about Simon Hodgson’s ‘Thieves We Were’, a story of Irish gangsters in the 1930s; and something horribly compelling and familiar about David Mildon’s ‘Red’, in which children of football fans are taunted simply for cheering for the ‘wrong’ team. This last, in particular, shows how unfriendly and forbidding this city can be to those who’ve come from outside. This story was immediate, well-paced, and left plenty of food for thought.
If someone asked me to define London, I would unhesitatingly point to the ethnic and cultural diversity of its population. One of the things I love most about my city is that people from all over the world, and from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, rub shoulders together on a daily basis. If anything is missing from London Lies, it is a firm sense of that diversity. The love stories appear to focus on heterosexual couples, and any characters from minority ethnic backgrounds tend to be incidental. I would love to see a little more of the richness of London’s people in future anthologies from the Liars’ League.
[Ed: Review edited to credit David Bausor for ‘O Happy Day’]