Strungballs by Mike Russell
Opening sentence: ‘A naked, white-skinned boy named Sydney lay on his back on a white bed in the centre of a white room.’
As I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review, I will be honest and say my first thought on finishing this novella was, ‘What the hell was that??‘ I knew this wouldn’t be your average read due to the author’s site being called StrangeBooks, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for how strange this little tale is!
So, let’s start with a brief synopsis…we’re told that people in this city must contribute cubes of flesh to the Sphere of Flesh that protects the city from the ‘Others’. When a cube is removed from a person, a ball with a string hanging from it, known as a Strungball is put in the recess, so everyone can see how many Strungballs everyone else has, as a sort of status-symbol. Strungballs are held sacred and once one has been inserted, it must never be removed.
The people in this city all take part in this ritual in a 1984-esque unquestioning way, “we should do what is good for the Sphere of Flesh because the Sphere of Flesh is what is most important. Do you now understand what is good, Sydney?”
The aforementioned Sydney is the lead character, a 10-year-old boy who has just received his first Strungball when he meets 90-year old Albert, who sets him on a new way of thinking. Sydney starts to question this unrelenting devotion to the Strungballs and wants to know what lies beyond the Sphere of Flesh.
So far, this might all sound batshit crazy, and yes – it is, but it’s when Sydney leaves the city to find out what the Sphere of Flesh is really protecting them against that things get truly, deeply surreal. The plot also picks up pace, to the point where nearly every time I turned a page, a new development in the narrative was revealed.
Although only 64 pages long, Mike Russell manages to pack a lot of imagery and ideas into those pages, making this really like nothing I’ve ever read before. Yes, I was left with questions and felt the second half of the story could have had a little more explanation in parts, but something about the true uniqueness of this novella means it’s a story that will linger around the edges of my brain for quite some time.
If you fancy reading a little mind-twist of a tale that really takes you out of reality for an hour (and let’s face it, sometimes we all need a bit of escapism!), then take a trip into the world of Strungballs.