The Quarry by Ben Halls reviewed

The Quarry Book Cover The Quarry
Ben Halls
Little, Brown Book Group UK
February 13, 2020

You can see it in them; all that anger inside, it's toxic. Throw some drink into it and everything bubbles over. People say that they never see it coming, the swing of the fist that kicks it all off, but I can tell.

In these interconnected short stories, we meet the men living on the Quarry Lane estate in west London. These are men at work, at the pub, at home, with their families, lovers and friends. Men grappling with addiction, sexuality and the corrosive effects of toxic masculinity.

From a bouncer at the local nightclub, to a postman returning to the streets of his youth, and a young man thinking of all the things he'd say and do to the father who left him behind, this startling debut reveals the complex inner lives of individuals whose voices are too often non-existent in fiction. Powerful and impressive, The Quarry marks the arrival of a bold new voice.

The blurb about The Quarry by Ben Halls intrigued me. A series of interconnected short stories about men on a west London estate. The variety of topics here struck me as interesting and seemed to indicate something more real than some stories I read. Right from the start this felt like authentic writing to me and the characters in the stories were vivid in the main.

Set in west London these stories are generally written in colloquial voices. Indeed there were times when I found words that were strange to me. However in the words of Jacko in the first story I am “well north of forty” so I guess that is not surprising! Either way the stories felt like they were about real people who you might actually come across.

Taking Jacko’s tale as an example, his father left when he was younger. He definitely still has issues surrounding that. Jacko has issues about a lot of things and might be described as “angry” quite a bit of the time. Most of the men in these stories can be angry at times. Worth noting that in this and other stories the language might be best described as adult in case that is an issue to anyone. I guess Jacko’s story acted life a brick between the eyes – it got my attention!

Some of the stories concern addiction in one sense or another. For me these were the darkest of the tales I think. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy them but they opened a window on troubled times. Pretty much all the stories got me thinking. Not least would be the fact that I am lucky. However there are plenty of people out there who are not despite how much people would prefer to pretend otherwise. I’m left with the feeling that Ben Halls has at least come across all the characters in these short stories.

Edgy is to me a rather overused word however The Quarry really is edgy at times and very dark too. They took me to places that I might rather not be on my own. I’ve read relatively few short story books recently. In general I’ve found that only a few really work for me and too many don’t. This collection restores my interest in short stories. One aspect of The Quarry that I liked and certainly kept me reading was how the stories sometimes interlink. That intrigues me and was done well as far as I am concerned. Every one of them worked to some degree at least. The best of them will stay with me for sometime to come.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review