Tales of the absurd

13th July 2001 at 01:00
ORANGE COWS FROM JUPITER. FAT ROUND CAT. GHOST STORY. THE PALE BLUE EGG AND OTHER STORIES. Story tapes, by James Campbell. pound;5 each, Borders Books. www.jamescampbell.co.uk.

James Campbell, who has recorded some of his stories for children, says at the start of Orange Cows from Jupiter that he is not a traditional storyteller, he does not have a beard and does not wear a kilt. His stories are absurdist, surreal ramblings. His influences are more Monty Python than Duncan Williamson and his delivery is that of a stand-up comedian.

Campbell has a voice for storytelling; it is warm, friendly, inviting and his comedic timing is spot on. Children will enjoy his silliness and his references to such icons of youth culture as Gameboys, while adults can smile at his pastiche of The Great Escape featuring oranges making their bid for freedom from a supermarket.

On each 55-minute audio cassette are between three and seven tales woven together by common threads. In Ghost Story, the tales are part of a greater, more convoluted tale which involves the narrator looking for his uncle in a local pub. In Orange Cows from Jupiter - by far the most bizarre of the collections - the tales roll one into the other by the appearance of common characters such as a Microwave Frog and a little, yappy dog on a motorbike. Misfortune befalls most of his protagonists: in Fat Round Cat, the titular cat falls out a window, is blown up, run over, used as a rug, pumped up, poked in the eye by a blind pigeon and finally dies.

What is missing from the stories is a sense of completion. Each tale is fun and the build-up is good but then Campbell ends in a way every primary pupil knows is a cop-out, with a death, someone waking up, throwing up or simply going off to play Monopoly with the other characters.

These are the sort of tales which children will pass on to each other in the playground. A loose grip on reality and a strong stomach are required and as a result they are probably not suitable for the classroom. But they are fun for anyone over the age of six.

Janet Smyth

Janet Smyth is the director of the Pushkin Prizes writing competition

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