The stories in this remarkable collection are vibrant, gripping and intricately worked, but they are more than simply small masterpieces of narrative art. James Lasdun's other great gift is his unfailing psychological instinct for the vertiginous moments when the essence of a life discloses itself. With forensic skill he exposes his characters' hidden desires and fears, drawing back the folds of their familiar self-delusions, their images of themselves, their habits and routines, to reveal them to themselves - and us - with brilliant clarity.
In sharply evoked settings that range from the wilds of Northern Greece to the beaches of Cape Cod, these intensely dramatic tales chart the metamorphoses of their characters as they fall prey to the gamut of human passions. The lives in them seethe with love, hate, desire, fear, tender corruption and cruel idealism. They rise to unexpected heights of decency, stumble into comic or tragic folly, they throw themselves open to lust, longing, paranoia - but they are always recognisably, illuminatingly, our lives.
As James Wood, the celebrated critic, has noted, 'James Lasdun seems to me to be one of the secret gardens of English writing...when we read him we know what language is for.' This collection of haunting, richly humane pieces - including the first winner of the National Short Story Award, 'An Anxious Man' - is further proof of the powers of enormously inventive writer.