Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh
Puzzle of Grief
Adventurous, vulnerable, and at times self destructive heroines take central stage in Anneliese Mackintosh’s debut collection Any Other Mouth. Upon reading three stories in a row, the characters’ voices, vocabulary and worldviews seem exceptionally similar to one another. The plots, too, are made up of different moments in what seems to be a single life. Add to this the epigraph of the book “1) 68% happened. 2) 32% did not happen. 3) I will never tell,” and the reader can’t help but be seduced to play a game of hide and seek.
This game influences the act of reading: stories function as small pieces in a larger puzzle. A full-fledged portrait is being constructed, or so the reader thinks until ‘A Rough Guide to Grief ’. This painfully honest manual, that mocks new age survival books of its own kind, is one of the few stories that is not (strictly) in the first person and is the key that unlocks Any Other Mouth. All the stories in the collection lead to it, or grow from it, and can in fact be elucidated by it. Hence, despite the tempting biographic invitation, it is better to regard Mackintosh’s collection as a map of sorrow: a young, outrageous, erotic, boisterous sorrow that matches its heroine.
Mackintosh is at her best when she dissects grief in its many shapes and forms; grief while deciphering other mouths, the grief of left over porn and burning cigarettes, the grief that hits you after death, welcome grief in the form of a shadow lover… The skewed decisions of Mackintosh’s characters, that rise from or lead to grief, are not explained or excused, but rather presented lovingly and unapologetically. ‘For Anyone who Wants to be Friends With Me’ reminisces about rape, and is so painfully lucid, at times it proves difficult to read. ‘If You Drank Coffee’ imagines an uncaring lover as the ideal partner. The loneliness in both stories is disarming to say the least. The flip side of the coin is that the grief Mackintosh analyses is of a certain kind. Unless the reader is happy focusingon different aspects of the same young, outrageous, erotic, boisterous grief in each story, the collection offers little variety. Tone and voice do not diversify. Characters echo each other. The locations do differ, but function only as background. This makes for a bleak narrative arc. One exception is ‘You Are Beautiful’. Whilst it utilizes Mackintosh’s trademark melancholy and mockery for new age rituals, the story seeks closure, perhaps
even happiness, and ends on a self-accepting note. Peaceful or downcast, another strength of Mackintosh’s is how she ends a story: her final words are consistently sharp and evocative. They linger.
In ‘When I Die, This is How I Want It To Be’, Mackintosh writes she wants her “regrets to be exhibited as objects d’art.” Any Other Mouth realises this wish. Mackintosh’s work will appeal to those who like confessions
of the intimate kind.
– Departed Cat
Any Other Mouth, Anneliese Mackintosh
Freight, RRP £8.99, 260pp