First There Wasn't, Then There WasFirst There Wasn’t, Then There Was by Troy Blackford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very strange tale, and definitely the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from someone who’d lost everything and was living on the streets.

The premise is that four young guys, all smokers, see an old man shambling around every day when they are out on their smoke breaks. The old man is always talking, never stops or addresses anyone directly and refuses money or any other attempts to engage. He never stands still long enough for them to hear what he says. One day one of the young smokers has an idea, they pop a digital dictaphone in his pocket and record what he says for a few hours.

When they listen back they find an unexpectedly coherent story, told consciously to the recorder but veering into the fantastical after a short while.

As you’d expect from the premise this is a story mostly in tell rather than show, and it is consciously narrated in the same way that you might tell someone a story. The narrator is very unreliable, and even goes as far as telling us that right at the beginning. That said it is consistent throughout and the level of detail works. Clearly a lot of inventive imagination has been applied, either that or the author has met some people who are clearly off their trolleys. While remaining lucid and matter of fact there is a whole load of pure fantasy tucked into the latter part of the story, which works to explain the character as we see him at the beginning.

One thing I would have liked to have had expanded was the effect on the four smokers, they have an expository epilogue on how hearing the story has affected them, but it could as easily have had a little more to show us that, and their change of heart in seizing the moment rather than waiting until they are older to do things. That’s a minor point though, overall I really liked the story.

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