The Pink Jumpsuit by Emma Neale
The Pink Jumpsuit is the first (and hopefully far from the only) collection of short writing from award winning writer, Emma Neale. Neale has achieved a significant amount of success in her career, from novels to poetry to the editorship of Landfall - the great literature magazine started by the poet, Charles Brasch.
There’s a wonderful line from Bustle magazine that speaks of the fact that the reporter is ‘jealous’ that you get to read something or experience something ‘for the first time’. This sentiment could not be truer in this collection. Feelings of jealousy come bubbling up just thinking about the opportunity to re-read the collection with fresh eyes. Such is the quality and real originality of Neale’s writing. The experience of reading this was unlike any of her previous work, which - to be fair - does make sense considering the foray into this genre of writing. The writing is wonderfully poetic without being overbearing. It is evocative without being ridiculous. It is reflective of real life without being nostalgic or dull.
Out of the gate there is ‘The fylgia’ (related to Norse mythology but don’t be concerned if you didn’t / don’t know this) which - like the described cry in the first few paragraphs - really disconcerts the reader with its intimate style and its provocative narrative. One of those stories that you just know will stick with you for a long time. The writing in this story alone is worth the purchase price.
As the collection develops it is made abundantly clear that this form suits Neale down to the ground. The poetic stylings of the writing in that halfway house between poetry and full narrative is reminiscent in parts of Mansfield, or de Maupassant with the cheekiness of some of those classic Dahl short stories. Fantastical as much as they are relatable. At times the stories begin in quite realistic terms and then drift into a surrealist premise - like a concert pianist managing to grow extra fingers after exposure to nuclear events.
The cover of the collection is from a painting by Sharon Singer called ‘Wonderlust’ depicting a person dressed in said Pink Jumpsuit and what appears to be an astronaut styled helmet. On the head is a selection of suitcases and they appear to be carrying a cat carrier. One may guess the landscape to be the moon based upon the aforementioned astronaut helmet. Overall, the image is one of incongruity and intrigue. Perhaps it is this intrigue that sparked the collection as a whole, it certainly provides the stimulus for the titular story - an autobiographical-esque move through the narrator’s relationship with their parents.
There is no doubt that Emma Neale doesn’t shy away from some fairly challenging subject matter. There are moments when the topic becomes quite heavy and intense. Certainly, the characters within each of the stories can’t be pigeonholed. They each carry a burden which is explored throughout the piece, but also capture the reader every time. One of the things that really stood out was the range of personas and personalities used in the telling of the stories, but with such authentic voices.
Sometimes there comes along a writer whose ability is just at that next level. Most writers dabble across the forms of writing but tend to specialise in one. A novelist may choose to write a short story selection but it tends to be a little ho-hum. Similarly a short story writer has a crack at some poetry, to the same outcome. But to read Emma Neale as a short story writer is as immensely rewarding as everything else she has written. Her poetry is sublime; her novels are fantastic; and, now, it is easy to label her short story writing as flawless.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Quentin Wilson Publishing