14th May 2021

It’s shorts season: Muscle and Mouth

Aileen Loftus reads ‘Muscle and Mouth’ and recommends reading short stories for the summer season
It’s shorts season: Muscle and Mouth
Muscle and Mouth by Louise Finnigan. Photo: Aileen Loftus for The Mancunion

The approach of exams and dissertation deadlines also brings the warmer weather. This means it’s time for shorts, and the perfect time for short stories. As they require less time commitment than novels, they make the perfect study break to transport you somewhere else.

Fly on the Wall Press is an independent publisher based in Manchester, and they release a series of short stories each year for ‘shorts season’. You can subscribe to the 2021 Shorts Season and receive a short story every 2 months. 

I read ‘Muscle and Mouth’, a story by Louise Finnigan. Finnigan is a Manchester based writer, and the short story is itself also firmly grounded in Manchester. 

‘Muscle and Mouth’ follows Mancunian college student Jade. Jade is completing an A-Level English Language assignment on speech patterns, and records some of her friends’ conversation in order to do so. She wants to go to Durham University, if she gets the 3 As she needs, a feat she describes as ‘a string pulled taut, with no give’.

The story is interspersed with extracts from Jade’s essay, and partly written as a transcript. This is effective, as the formal tone of the essay fiercely contrasts the scene she is transcribing. A difference perhaps as stark as that between Durham University and a Manchester estate. 

‘Mrs Muldowney will get her essay and I will get into Durham. But I will lose this place and it’s sounds too. They will become alien to me. The muscle and mouth of them’

The story is bookended by the teacher reading Jade’s essay. Jade seems aware of the judgement of her friends in her analysis of their language, and is angry at her teacher’s response. Yet, she stays quiet in the classroom, staring at the sugar paper of the display while her teacher reads her essay. 

Mrs Muldowney warns her to be ‘more careful’ about who she spends time with. This implies that Jade’s social life has a direct impact on her grades or her ability to get into Durham. 

The power the teacher holds over Jade in this moment, as Mrs Muldowney marks the work and Jade holds her tongue, is strangely prescient of how teachers are currently a deciding force in pupils’ grades and therefore their futures. 

A reader cannot help but question how much Jade will enjoy Durham – a place her mum identifies as being full of ‘toffs from down south’. 93% of teenagers in England attend state schools, yet at Durham the percentage of students from state school is at a mere 60.5%.

Despite its short length, the story quickly creates a sense of Jade’s conflicting fear and excitement about going to university and leaving behind the world she knows. It reminded me of my own feelings before coming to university. 

‘Muscle and Mouth’ is available to preorder, to be shipped on the 11th June – in time for the end of exams and the start of summer shorts-wearing!

Aileen Loftus

Aileen Loftus

Books Editor

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