Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

"The Best British Short Stories 2011", Nicholas Royle (ed) (Salt, 2011)

The breakdown of sources is: books (5), non-UK mags (3), newspapers (3), Warwick Review (3), London Magazine (1), Ambit (1), Wasafiri (1), Riptide (1), New Welsh Review (1), online competition anthology (1)

There's nothing under 5 pages long. The selection begins rather tamely but soon develops width and depth with some soft-SF, meta-fiction (In Heather Leach's "So much time in a life" the number of characters is in flux until at the end there are none), a ghost story, a story with pages of foot-notes, tales of broken families, etc. Michèle Roberts' piece is the most consciously poetic. Alas, I've never taken to her style. I'll briefly focus on 2 pieces that use animals as a kind of Symbol or alter-ego

  • SJ Butler's "The Swimmer" uses a swan as Symbol. The narrator's "quite unready for the swan" when she first sees it - her gasp of pleasure at its beauty alerts it to the strange sight of a swimmer in its river". But it's dangerous too. In her "sweltering tiny office ... she cannot stop thinking about the swan". Then one evening she can swim close enough to it to touch it. She realises it's trapped in fishing lines. She releases it. It drifts away. "And at the next bend she cannot tell it from the mist rising from the water."
  • In John Burnside's "Slut's Hair" a woman's trapped in an unhappy marriage with a drinker. They're short of money. Her husband gets his toolbox out to extract her bad tooth, encouraging her to gulp some spirits down first to dull the pain. After, she sees something in the kitchen, "something vague and unfinished, like a scribble in blue ink amongst the wet shadows - something impossible". A cat maybe, or a fox. No, it's a mouse. "She needed to save it - she didn't know why but she had to". She tries to pick it up near the tumble-dryer, but she came up "with nothing more than a fistful of dust and - what was that stuff you found in dark corners where nobody had cleaned? What was it called? Slut's hair. Yes; that was it. That was what her mother had always called it". Then her husband returns.

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