The first question: Is this a novel or a short-story collection? The second question: Does it matter ?
The idea of a city forming the heart of a collection of tales is one that has most famously been done by Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities , and James Joyce in Dubliners (arguably his best work). It is an idea Sam Thompson takes up in his debut work, with ten stories connected to a fictitious city and how a differing collection of characters, quite possibly across a number of years, experience the city, and of how a dark cloud in the guise of a flaneur with a story to share pervades each experience.
It plays with genre and pastiche – no more so than with its Chandleresque “Gallathea”, and Holmesian “The Significant City of Lazarus Glass” chapters and shows the kind of flashes of brilliance that critics lap up. There is definitely some great writing in this book (I would be interested in a full novel from Thompson) and a number of the stories are engaging up to a point: Communion Town and The Good Slaughter in particular , but too often it feels like a writing exercise – look at me I can do dystopia SF, Crime pastiche etc. For me the overall effect of the book is not one of a ‘whole’ city, but of disparate parts lacking a central heart. It’s short stories connected by little more than a vague theme, something also done by Daniel Handler in his far more playful book, Adverbs. But more than anything it left me wanting to re-read Charles Pallser’s Betrayals which make a much better job of doing what Thompson is trying to do here.
To answer my initial questions: This is a short story collection, and yes it does matter if it was been shortlisted for a prize for best Novel – but it seems this is allowed and counted as a ‘novel’ if your stories are connected in some way.
Recommendation: Do not shortlist