Tea at the Midland
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**Selected as one of the Books of the Year 2012 by the TLS and the London Evening Standard** **WINNER of the BBC National Short Story Prize** To the woman watching they looked like grace itself, the heart and soul of which is freedom. It pleased her particularly that they were attached by invisible strings to colourful curves of rapidly moving air. How clean and clever that was! You throw up something like a handkerchief, you tether it and by its headlong wish to fly away, you are towed along... Like the kite-surfers in this opening scene, the characters in David Constantine s fourth collection are often delicately caught in moments of defiance. Disregarding their age, their family, or the prevailing political winds, they show us a way of marking out a space for resistance and taking an honest delight in it. Witness Alphonse having broken out of an old people s home, changed his name, and fled the country now pedalling down the length of the Rhône, despite knowing he has barely six months to live. Or the clergyman who chooses to spend Christmas Eve and the last few hours in his job in a frozen, derelict school, dancing a wild jig with a vagrant called Goat. Key to these characters defiance is the power of fiction, the act of holding real life at arm s length and simply telling a story be it of the future they might claim for themselves, or the imagined lives of others. Like them, Constantine s bewitching, finely-wrought stories give us permission to escape, they allow us to side-step the inexorable traffic of our lives, and beseech us to take possession of the moment.