‘Nothing is Strange’ – Mike Russell

Don’t let the title fool you – absolutely everything written in the pages of Nothing is Strange is totally (yet magnificently) bizarre.

This extraordinary, mind-bending book is a collection of 20 short stories by Mike Russell, who has already written a small library of what he calls ‘strange books’.Untitled

And Nothing is Strange is clearly no anomaly within that library.

It’s packed with fantastical tales that are full of imagination. It’s thought-provoking and wonderful, to say the least.

You can’t even begin to imagine the places Russell takes us and the things he shows us – from Mr Spencer with stars erupting from his head, to walking cuts of meat, and the emotionless House of the Human Clouds. You just never know what to expect, and I love it!

How he’s created so many different fantastic plots and protagonists, I will never know. It certainly takes one hell of an imagination though, I can tell you that much.

And because each tale is between just 2 and 10 pages long, it’s perfect if you’re looking for something easy yet insightful – a book you can quickly pick up and put down again if you’re struggling to find reading time.

Each story seems to tackle a different everyday issue, whether it’s free speech, the stigma around masculine emotion, or the concept of love. But Russell encourages you to look at the topic from a totally new perspective, and it’s truly eye-opening.

But unfortunately, there are some that I just don’t get. The End of the Pier being the one that comes to mind. To me, it seems to totally stick out from the others.

I like the idea of taking real issues and exploring them through the medium of oddity. But when you re-read a story three or four times and still can’t quite grasp the meaning, that’s when amazement and intrigue can just turn to confusion.

The End of the Pier aside, most of the other stories are narrated in a very matter of fact manner. This can have its benefits. It’s easy for the reader to picture what’s going on and throws us right into these new obscure worlds, and it helps to create a consistent tone throughout the book as well.

Yet for me, this doesn’t seem quite right for such a strange collection of stories – it can start to sound a little flat. Each tale is so different, and each more bizarre than the last, that it feels as though they deserve more peaks and troughs in their storytelling. It feels like they deserve more tension, joy and sadness, more surprise, shock and despair.

But saying that, it’s clear why Russell has done it this way – it just goes towards proving his title’s correct. Using such a matter of fact tone across each story and scenario makes everything start to sound familiar, and everything strange suddenly become un-strange. So – you guessed it – nothing is strange anymore.

The stories do seem to get darker as you read further into the collection though. Towards the end there’s more violence and pain than the seemingly happier, more optimistic stories at the start. This adds a nice element of breadth to the book, and it’s good at showing off Russell’s talent.

There are moments of wonderful literary genius in this collection too. I’ve never read a story that breaks the fourth wall quite like The Shining Flower, and the character development through Turkish Delight in Dunce is just brilliant – and hilarious!

To put it simply, Russell has such a magnificent imagination, you won’t be able to stop reading.

But once you get to the end, that’s when you’re really given something to think about. Russell closes his book using the miracle of the universe to impose the stark realisation that indeed everything AND nothing is strange.

Just consider how odd it is that we can all live on Earth – a “spinning ball of rock surrounded by billions of balls of flames”. Then question how Russell’s own worlds can be truly strange when compared to our reality.

Then we realise he’s right.

Nothing is strange.

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