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.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

"The Best British Short Stories 2013" edited by Nicholas Royle (Salt, 2013)

Unless you buy many short story books and literary magazines, this book's invaluable. I've read the Adam Marek and Guy Ware book from which their stories came (I would have chosen Ware's "All Downhill from Here"). That still leaves 18 pieces new to me. The introduction's worth a read -

  • Though he's warming to Flash (he's included a 1-page piece), Royle writes that "Flash fiction is still an awful term. It hardly implies lasting value. But then, given that a lot of so-called flash fiction is not particularly good, maybe it isn't so inappropriate after all" (p.xi)
  • "Prospect magazine stopped publishing original stories in its fiction slot, opting for stories extracted from forthcoming collections instead" (p.xiv)
  • "Then the current editor, Steven O'Brien, took over [London Magazine]. ... There was invariably room for one or more of editor O'Brien's poems ... I've not been able to keep up with the magazine's short stories, including, last year, two by Steven O'Brien." (p.xv)

Here are some rough summaries and opinions.

  • Moore - Daughter visits father having just left husband
  • Sharp - The lonely writer (becomes meta-story)
  • Marek - Father/son bonding
  • Kay - Character study of an older woman. Weak
  • Raisin - Gay footballer. I liked it
  • Del-Rivo - Male intellectual loner. Weak
  • Preston - Desert warfare
  • Lively - Dictators on a cruise. Time-loop
  • Lambert - Childless couple. She snaps.
  • Mackintosh - A student's slide into madness
  • Shearman - Separated couple (husband leaves). Ghost story.
  • Shukla - Male, alone, children grown. No
  • Wall - Old couple. Male going senile. Daughter visits. No
  • Killham - Wife as hyena
  • Boyle - Couples and affairs
  • Glaister - Old couple. Male ill. Wife recalls his affairs, thinks about daughter. I liked the use of the "Just Watch me" title.
  • Ware - Wife leaves husband and kids
  • Hyland - Father visits son just after wife has left son (though the father doesn't know that). Son thinks about his father's separation
  • Claire - Grim fairy tale
  • Rose - A record producer marries a violinist. As she grows ill, he covers her performing inadequacies by using other people's recordings.

Common themes are -

  • Middle aged parents having affairs, breaking up, and/or being visited by their grown children. Along with ill, old couples that accounts for at least half the stories!
  • Animals acting as familiars or substitutes - in Lambert's piece a post-abortion wife is given a puppy by her husband; in Killham's, the wife is a hyena; in Boyle's, discussion about a cat (should it be put down?) is recognised as referring to a marriage.
  • At the climax, irrevocable action replaces words. Something snaps (Preston, Lambert).

Boyle's "Budapest" includes some common tricks that I remain unsure about - late identification in a paragraph of who "he" or "she" is, and uncertainty whether things are said or just thought. On p.114 there's 'He has wonderful eyes,' she says. yet on p.115 there's OK, the boy says. What's happened to the quotemarks? The story has one of the longest change-of-subject endings I've seen. It could be tagged onto the end of many a story -

OK, the boy says [of a spider], but how does it know it's grown up, why doesn't it just keep on growing more legs?
Sometimes in old films the camera pulls back from the intimate - the kiss, the fight, the horses being saddled - to show the backdrop panorama: the cityscape, its domes and spires and palaces, the snow-capped mountains. How beautiful, you think. And then just as you begin to suspect that it's not for real, that it's a painted backdrop, the cut to the next scene. The budget was tight, you can understand this, it wouldn't stretch to the whole crew staying for months in a luxury scenic location. You can forgive, if there's anything to be forgiven, which there isn't. But not too tight for a painter to paint that landscape, with all the hours of research and the patience of each brushstroke, even though it will be on screen for barely more than a second.

My suggested replacement for the pieces by Kay, Del-Rivo, Shukla and Wall is "What I've seen" by Dragan Todorovic.

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