ISBN 9781779310958
Pages 224
Dimensions 198 x 129mm
Published 2023
Publisher amabooks Publishers, Zimbabwe
Format Paperback

Whatever Happened to Rick Astley?

by Bryony Rheam

Whatever happened to Rick Astley? She imagined that he was happily married with children. A record producer, perhaps? That was the usual way with singers, wasn’t it? From Bryony Rheam, the award winning author of All Come to Dust and This September Sun, comes a collection of sixteen short stories shining a spotlight on life in Zimbabwe over the last twenty years. The daily routines and the greater fate of ordinary Zimbabweans are represented with a deft, compassionate touch and flashes of humour. From the pot-holed side streets of Bulawayo to lush, blooming gardens, traversing down-at-heel bars and faded drawing rooms, the stories in Whatever Happened to Rick Astley? ring with hope and poignancy, and pay tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.


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'Whatever Happened to Rick Astley?, Bryony Rheam’s wonderful collection of short stories, deals with loss—loss of identity, loss of memory, loss of country, loss of someone you love. While the theme seems to be a heavy one, the stories capture the beauty and the magic of the ordinary. There is nostalgia here for what once was, but there is also a lot of hope for what could be. Anything that can give us hope in today’s day and age is truly amazing, and that is what this collection is.'

Siphiwe Ndlovu, The Theory of Flight

'Bryony Rheam’s short stories are skilled, perfectly formed, and compelling; the characters are largely outsiders – whether geographically, culturally or emotionally – and completely realised, inhabiting detailed and believable worlds. In all, Whatever Happened to Rick Astley? is a deeply satisfying collection.'

Karen Jennings, An Island

'This varied and eclectic collection from Bryony Rheam sizzles with the undercurrent of a continent always on the very edge of chaos and disorder, and yet there is such warmth, strength and humility to the lives of her many eccentric characters. In turn these stories are funny, poignant, at times shocking, but always deeply moving.'

Ian Holding, Unfeeling

An intriguing title that matches the short stories that follow, Bryony Rheam’s Whatever Happened To Rick Astley? opens a window to allow readers a glimpse of life, in all its forms, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The collection opens strong with the story of a young man, a modern Sisyphus in some ways, who has the self-appointed task of filling the potholes on a road every day, despite how they return… until a high profile politician is due to move nearby. Then, of course, the road is fixed professionally. Luckily – or probably unluckily – there is always a potholed road in Bulawayo. The stories that follow take us from the dusty streetside to lush gardens, filled with characters facing different but constant challenges and experiences. Each story forms a piece of a larger, mismatched-but-realistic puzzle of the fluctuations of life in a country that mirrors these ups and downs in different ways. As a well-rounded and gratifying short story collection should, Whatever Happened To Rick Astley? is both an anthology of tiny worlds, each compact and consumable on their own, but they also form part of a bigger collection of work which, on finishing, feel inseparable from one another.’  

Potholes by Bryrony Rheam

Interview: Bryony Rheam talks about her new collection of short stories ‘Whatever Happened to Rick Astley?’


Pat Brickhill reviews a collection of short stories by Bryony Rheam Bryony Rheam’s latest book is a collection of short stories, each one is linked in some way to Zimbabwe. Most are set in various suburbs of Bulawayo, where Bryony lives with her family. A handful are set in the UK, and The Piano Tuner, a touching story of prejudice and compassion, is set in Zambia.The subject of each story varies from potholes, to disappearing electricity, to the physical and human neglect of Zimbabwe, but each describes a different facet

of loss.

The beauty of the ordinary

I would agree with fellow Zimbabwean writer Siphiwe Ndlovu, who writes on the back cover that Bryony portrays loss & 'of identity, memory, country or a loved one' and 'capture(s) the beauty of the ordinary'. The writer has a talent for vividly painting with words the world she is writing about. We are drawn into a realm of reflection that arises with the passage of time as we grow older: reliving childhood, or the excitement of joining the world of adults, combined with the loneliness that can come with old age. These themes are developed in The Queue and These I have Loved, while the consequences of bad life choices are explored in Dignum et Justum est. 


Bryony Rheam has a wonderful talent for bonding the reader with the story, tackling emotions that are familiar, looking at belonging, the loss of country, of husband, or merely the passage of time. Each story left me with a strong sense of the character struggling against the vagaries of life and perhaps attempting to reach a point of resolution or even redemption. Castles in the Air was a beautiful descriptive story blending the compassion of motherhood with the magic of childhood, as the mother distracts from a power cut by taking her daughter on a late afternoon walk, enthusiastically joining in her child’s imaginary games. My least favourite story was The Colonel Comes By, which describes the stark, desperate struggle of a single mother, as the ending left this reader rather confused. The Big Trip, The Young Ones and Last Drink at the Bar explore the familiar divide that opens with choices, or the lack of them, by those who leave their country and those who remain – as each attempts to justify or acknowledge where they live. Moving On is a touching story of coming to terms with the hidden trauma of loss that surfaces when memory and reality merge. Bryony gives a glimpse of her skill at humour with Christmas. The Fountain of Lethe uncovers a memory from childhood perhaps best left buried. Finally, the title story is a wonderful wistful reflection of a mother inspired by remembering a song from her youth in Whatever Happened to Rick Astley?. I found this anthology both touching and entertaining. To some these stories will provoke nostalgia, for many people have endured the trauma of leaving the country of their birth – often leaving loved ones behind. Some tales will leave the reader with a familiar longing and feeling of sadness but every narrative is bursting with warmth and empathy. This anthology provides a poignant glimpse into the lives of strangers who are nevertheless familiar, to all who are fortunate enough to be able read it. I thoroughly recommend it.

Pat Brickhill is a freelance writer and BZS secretary.

Zimbabwe Review, The Journal of the Britain Zimbabwe Society

About the Author

Bryony Rheam

Bryony Rheam is a Zimbabwean who lives in the second city of Bulawayo with her partner and two daughters. She has had short stories published in many anthologies and her first novel This September Sun won critical acclaim and topped the UK Amazon chart. It was chosen as the Best First Book at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Awards and selected as a set text for 'A' level Literature in English in Zimbabwe. Bryony was one of the five Africans chosen for a Morland scholarship in 2018. An Agatha Christie enthusiast, she is a winner of the international Write Your Own Christie competition. Rheam’s detective story, ALL COME TO DUST, was chosen as one of ten top African thrillers in Publishers Weekly, who described it as a “stunning crime debut.” Read an interview with Bryony Rheam here.