Saturday, 14 May 2016

Review - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

I have read some amazing collections this year.

Works by Laird Barron, Hank Schwaeble, and Clive Barker... to name just a few. 

So when I say that McKiernan's collection Last Year, When We Were Young ranks alongside those previous books I don't say it lightly. Last Year, When We Were Young was one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and its stories are still haunting me weeks after I finished it. 

Collecting all of McKiernan's previous short work, Last Year, When We Were Young is one of the most impressive collections I have ever read. 


From the opening story (The Memory of Water) through to the last (Last Year, When We Were Young) McKiernan draws you into a series of tales that not only deal with the absurd and the horrific, but also the notions of deep loss and grief. And it works. It works so well in fact that it's still haunting me weeks later. 

So what did I love about this collection? Where do I even start? 

One of the things that floored me reading through this collection was McKiernan's width and breadth as a writer. He is never limited or bound by convention in this book, and he openly explores paths that I would never have considered possible with his story telling. Take, for example, his tale "All the Clowns in Clowntown". Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would read a story about the last surviving resistance members of a clown counter revolution. And never did I imagine that such a story would work. But fuck me, it does. McKiernan also embraces old school horror, weird survivalism, the grotesque, and tragedy throughout this book, and seamlessly shifts from locations such as urban cities right through to the hot and dusty desert. And his use of prose is, to put it bluntly, magical. 

McKiernan has a vivid and haunting way with words that is very reminiscent of writers such as King (in his early days) and McCarthy. He never overplays his hand, but as you read you are slowly drawn into his dark visions so deeply that they resonates with you for a long time afterwards. The title story (Last Year, When We Were Young) highlights this by starting out as a seemingly innocent tale about teenagers and moving quickly to a world dying due to a mysterious virus that ages their bodies rapidly. 

McKiernan's characterisation is also impressive. Every protagonist is believable, fascinating, and darkly layered. You cannot help but relate to them from the get go, and as each tale unfolds you find yourself moving through a wide range of emotions (joy, grief, anger, and hopelessness to name just a few). This is yet another reason why this book is masterful. No two stories are the same, but all are intrinsically linked to each other by an exploration of defining human emotions. Whether he is telling a gothic tale, or exploring a meteorite that is not all that it appears to be, McKiernan's words send you on a cathartic exploration of yourself and all those around you. 

The pacing is seamless, and every story strong and worthy of inclusion in this collection. Last Year, When We Were Young never stumbles, and kept me enthralled (and emotionally drained) from start to finish. I cannot find any faults with it. I literally adored this collection, and find it criminal that McKiernan's work is not as well known as it should be outside of Australia. 

If you want to read a riveting collection of stories that cover a wide range of topics and styles. Buy this book. 

If you want to be taken on a journey that will be cathartic to your soul. Buy this book. 

If you want to see a wordsmith delight, horrify, and grip you in ways you never thought possible. Buy this book. 

Actually... just buy this book. 

Original, entertaining, and stirring, Last Year, When We Were Young is one of the most powerful collection of stories I've ever read. McKiernan mines the dark veins of the human soul on every single page, leaving you both moved and disturbed at the same time. 

Highly recommended for all readers. 

5 out of 5 stars.

You can find out more information, and purchase Last Year, When We Were Young, at the following link

No comments:

Post a Comment