Book Review – I Wanted To Be Close To You by Katie Oliver

I Wanted To Be Close To You by Katie Oliver is a collection of darkly humorous and sharply written short stories exploring the female experience in particular, written at a snappy pace that perfectly suits their short length. In fact, these stories are so short – some merely a page long – that they emerge more as vignettes delving into the most pressing of themes: the tension and imbalance simmering in strained relationships; the hole left by lost loves and the lengths we can be driven to to feel close to them again; our dependency on technology and social media; our generation’s obsession with the controlled and measured sleep of both adults and babies; the pressures and expectations of motherhood; and our relationship with, and occasional integration into, the natural world around us.

These stories sometimes contain laugh-out-loud moments for their imaginative reach but, in truth, are razor-sharp observations of our society. What Oliver does so well is create a world where the dark, the surreal, and the magical creep into mundane, everyday moments in a way that, while strange and startling to us readers, becomes either something special to be cherished, or merely a bit of an annoyance to be endured, to the protagonists. Women unfulfilled in their lives slowly metamorphose into something else; the advances of amorous cacti are accepted with resignation. The writing is visceral and earthy in a way that makes us feel the weight and presence of bodies, the pull and push of the natural world so vividly depicted. 

In literature as in real life, the natural world is often seen as the soothing antithesis or antidote to the addictive and all-consuming pull of technology; not always so in Oliver’s world. Here nature often takes on a darker pull of its own, or becomes an integral part of our deep bending to the draw of social media, and the plants, nature and wildlife become imbued with a strange and startling presence and energy of their own; you will never leave a plant behind a sunny window or sleep next to a cactus again after reading these stories. The landscapes and settings of Oliver’s stories come alive in strange ways; be it the wild floral garden in the opening story that covers a dark secret, or the monstrous escalator in another story that exacts revenge on a predator.

This is a delightful collection of bite-sized stories, sizzling with an unsettling energy and tension, where the dark and strange twists will draw you into Oliver’s captivating world.

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I Wanted To Be Close To You is published by Fly on the Wall Press December 2nd 2022, and will be available in Ireland from Hodges Figgis, Books Upstairs, The Winding Stair, Waterstones Cork, and further stores to be announced. Thank you to the author and publisher for my eARC.

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Katie Oliver is a writer based on the west coast of Ireland, whose work has been
nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction.
I Wanted To Be Close To You is her debut short story collection.
She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @katie_rose_o

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