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Insignificant Gestures - Jo Cannon
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Insignificant Gestures

Jo Cannon

A refugee finds his face has disappeared from the mirror. Lost on a mountain, a fell runner puts her brain into reverse. A traumatised woman realises she can slip in and out of the minds of passersby. In a city where nothing is as it should be, a lone nurse plays peek-a-boo with an abandoned baby.

Twenty five stories about exile and belonging. This first collection by award winning writer Jo Cannon explores what it means to be an outsider. Sometimes surreal, always perceptive, these stories celebrate the unexpected interactions that alter lives.

Blog Tour

Jo has embarked on a blog tour. Together the discussions give an in-depth insight into Jo's thoughts and motivations in writing her book. We'll keep you up to date as the tour continues.

What people think of Insignificant Gestures

"There is not one insignificant word in this entire collection. With subtlety, humour and the greatest compassion, Jo delves into the rich inner lives of people who will never attract headlines, but whose stories delight, appal and shame us in equal measure. Misjudgements, chance and accidents collide in a kaleidoscopic collection that ranges from African poverty to New Look to a housing estate and far beyond.
Jo’s characters are often woven from workaday cloth into vivid tapestries that linger long in the mind. She is adept at spotting the bizarre in the mundane, in sly observation that prompts a smile of recognition, and in making us see the humanity in everyone. Small lives. Great writing."


"Cannon is a courageous writer, taking on weighty topics like abuse and domestic violence, politics and terrorism, climates of fear and xenophobia. … There is nothing she shies away from. These are stories meant to tug on the reader’s heartstrings and they do effectively, almost all of the time. … Overall … Cannon applies her lush style and incredible generosity of spirit to a universal theme: the fallible humanity in all of us." [Full Review]

Sara Lippmann

"To read Jo Cannon is to enter into the world of the displaced, the dispossessed, and to emerge with a new understanding She writes with integrity and compassion, and her stories resonate long after the final words have been read."

Zoe King

"This fine collection encompasses a wide variety of situations, characters, and moods. The author is a doctor, an inner-city GP who also worked for a time in Africa, and the stories reflect these strands of experience. She also writes with great insight about the immigrant experience in this country. But she is concerned with the everyday too: the joys and trials of family life, the subtleties of human relationships, urban demolition, dentists, and traffic jams.

Though the stories are each only a few pages long, they sometimes describe complex and serious matters. ‘Daddy’s Girl’ takes us into the mind of fundamentalist terrorist; while ‘Shutters’ describes the obsessive-compulsive behaviour of an ex-soldier, keeping his ill and helpless wife hidden away from vital medical help. Another, ‘New Look’, sheds light on the efforts of a transvestite man to obtain a cervical smear, and the delightfully unflappable female doctor who deals expertly with the situation. In ‘The Alphabet Diet’ we learn of the regime of a young obese man: this week ‘kippers, Kit-Kats and kiwi-fruit.' These situations are described with compassion and understanding, as well as humour. And there is tragedy in Africa, where the title story of the collection is concerned with a young doctor burdened with guilt over a death he might have prevented; while in ‘Theresa’s Spear’ a nun realises too late that she needs more than the denying rules of her order, and the supposed love of a God in whom she has lost faith.

Several of the stories show something of alienation and altered mental states, and the last in the collection, ‘Jam’, is a delightful fantasy, in which an ordinary traffic hold-up turns out to have most surprising but touching developments.

The author is above all an artist of the short story form, the brief but telling delineation of personality and place. Every story has its share of poetic and memorable phrases: ‘the sun that rises fast, pulling colour behind it like a train;’ ‘a violent, scarlet grief;’ ‘old age, waving cockroach feelers from a keyhole;’ or ‘when we make love she passes through doors that swing shut in my face.’ And the endings of her stories are especially effective. The final sentence, even the last word may sum up the whole story, or open new and endless vistas for the characters and for the readers. In ‘Mercy is Sick Today’ two young African sisters, one on the verge of womanhood, the other already damaged by her experience of it, lie together, their arms around each other ‘staring dark into dark’. And the story ‘Love on the Rocks’, a moving tribute to enduring married love, ends most beautifully, as the narrator considers the possibility of life in the future, without her husband:

'…one day, he will slip away from her into the waves and she’ll carry on alone… Later still she will lay her paddle aside. Sliding into the water’s caress, she will duck down and swim to him through all the space, untouched and beautiful, that lies beneath sea and sky.'"


"Jo Cannon's writing is engaging and thought provoking, with a quirky gentleness in the prose. Her stories gradually reveal strong universal themes that continue to 'sing' long after the reader has put down the work."

Vanessa Gebbie