Believing in the Book: Finlay Lloyd’s new smalls

Art work from Mandy Orr's NY, published by Finlay Lloyd

Art work from Mandy Orr’s NY, published by Finlay Lloyd

Review by Phill Stamatellis

The death of the book has become a tiresome mantra that in recent years has reached fever pitch.

That beast Amazon has stretched its tentacles beyond the printed word to the e-book.

Downloadable books (and media of all kinds) would seem to give the doomsayer’s predictions some weight. This is not a new phenomenon; every generation has had its go at writing the book’s epitaph and there were concerns about the future of the book when newspapers became popular. In the 1980s and 1990s the explosion of home computing, faxes and cellular phone technologies had the doomsayer’s whipped up into mouth-foaming apocalyptic frenzies. In the last few years they stand about with a Kindle raised in the air declaring the hour has finally come. The reality is few technologies totally supersede another. Radio survived television; the book, an ancient technology, has proved to be resilient and will continue to have mass appeal.

What is of concern is the risk-averse behaviour of the major publishing houses. Tightening margins, the pressure for growth and increasing profits is an issue for all businesses in today’s competitive global market. In short, it is more difficult than ever to be published—especially if your work is of a literary nature. In the natural world a void will be filled; it is no different in the world of business and this void has created opportunities for a growing group of independent publishers. One of these is the non-profit press Finlay Lloyd, which recently launched a series of ‘smalls’ (FL-Smalls).

Finlay Lloyd believes in the book as an enduring physical object. The book, while primarily concerned with content, is also an experience. It has weight, form and the act of turning its pages triggers reactions on emotional and intellectual levels—every book has a unique presence. FL-Smalls were designed around form and each author was given sixty pages to create a work of fiction. The result was five books released in 2013 as a companion set, two long stories, two graphic novels and one book of poetry. In an age where convenience is a major factor in consumer design, the books are light and are easily slipped into one’s back pocket, handbag or man-bag (okay, satchel if you must insist). They can easily be held in one hand, making them a perfect accompaniment to coffee, the bus, train or tram. The front covers are individually illustrated, the back covers are graced with a photo of the author, and even though the books are compact the typesetting is generous and with this reviewer’s strained vision easy to read.

Bruno KramzerThe character of the title in A.S. Patrić’s Bruno Kramzer is a ‘Professional Rogue’ who is paid to bring down individuals a peg or two. This is often in the form of humiliating pranks and sometimes-sinister acts of violence that, as the first few pages attest, can go horribly wrong. Bruno Kramzer never chose the life of the Professional Rogue; he was once a humble seller of nuts and due to a change in circumstances fell on hard times. The novella has some interesting themes: the most prominent is how we think we have control of our lives but that control is largely an illusion because we are part of a bigger game being played. There is an ambiguity surrounding the setting of Bruno’s world, until you realise that it is linked to Kafka’s The Trial, which, coupled with the third-person narrative voice, results in Bruno Kramzer having a fable- or parable-like quality.

The Dark Days of Matty LangIn The Dark Days of Matty Lang author Wayne Strudwick plunges the reader into the protagonist’s life of memory loss and painkillers. Matty wakes to the sound of smashing glass determined to fill in the lost moments in time prior to the events that have caused him so much anguish. We are taken along page by page as different people and places reveal one gut-wrenching memory after another. The Dark Days of Matty Lang is a tale of teen love, loss, misguided loyalties and small-town tragedy.

NYMandy Ord’s first graphic novel, Rooftops, was published by Finlay Lloyd in 2007 and was followed by Sensitive Creatures (Allen & Unwin) in 2011. Ord’s comics are instantly recognizable by their heavy ink-swathed style and one-eyed Mandy character. Her work is largely autobiographical and like in Rooftops where Mandy takes us for a walk through Melbourne on her way to the cinema and discusses the nature of coincidence, NY takes a stroll through Manhattan. In New York Mandy is full of doubts and is conscious of her vulnerability, but soon comes to realise the Big Apple, for all its promise, has its own.

Nothing VenturedNothing Ventured is Natalia Zajaz’s first book and is a humorous offering to say the least. It is a series of graphic stories, a small anthology of her work that deal with subjects like, housemates, convenience food, and the mundane aspects of life. It is full of quirky humour (including some great poo jokes) and the loose form of the drawings perfectly compliments the subject matter. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Anxiety SoupAny interest in poetry your reviewer may have developed was mercilessly crushed by the secondary school system. So it was with nauseous trepidation that he began reading Tara Mokhtari’s aptly titled Anxiety Soup. The first poem, Dear Stevie, is homage to poet Stevie Smith who survived a suicide attempt and whose work often explored the subject of death. The last few lines of ‘Dear Stevie’ sum up the poem, washing away the old high school anxieties over poetry, and left a lasting impression on this reviewer.

I should have left it at that

that Wednesday in July when I

packaged up all your deaths

and submitted them to be judged

knowing full well all your deaths

were perfect

and only one of mine

could ever be.

Powerful stuff. Anxiety Soup is poetry that is contemporary in its themes, accessible, and enjoyable.
Finlay Lloyd has released a fine bundle of work in a form that has a collectible feel and most importantly highlights the book has qualities that cannot be replicated or transferred in a digital format.

Bruno Kramzer by A.S. Patrić
The Dark Days of Matty Lang by Wayne Strudwick
NY by Mandy Ord
Nothing Ventured by Natalia Zajaz
Anxiety Soup by Tara Mokhtari
Finlay Lloyd 2013
$50.00 or $12.00 each
60 pages per book

Phill Stamatellis has always been a keen reader. He is currently enrolled in a Writing degree at the University of Canberra and publishes the blog Beyond the Blue Divide