Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Short Stories – Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës, edited and compiled by A. J. Ashworth

I know, I know. Another excuse for me to subtly talk about nineteenth century literature under the cover of modern adaptations of it (just like every review of the Austen Project I’ve written). However, I really did enjoy this book, Red Room, being as it is a celebration of the Brontës, their lives and works. It features stories by Alison Moore, David Constantine, Carys Davies, David Rose, Rowena Macdonald, Tania Hershman, Sarah Dobbs, Venessa Gebbie, Elizabeth Baines, Zoë King, Bill Broady and Felicity Skelton, and a poem by Simon Armitage. Each story takes a novel or an aspect of the lives of the Brontë sisters, and takes a new perspective on it. As someone who loves the Brontës (and who loves good short stories), this book is a real treasure.

The collection as a whole, and on a story-by-story basis, manages to capture that tense and vivid atmosphere the Brontë sisters did so well. The collection begins with Moore’s ‘Stonecrop’, in which we get that ominous ambiguity, that eerily calm sense of appreoaching violence that I so love in the Brontës’ novels. And later there is the atmosphere ‘Behind all the Closed Doors’, by Sarah Dobbs. This, although probably one of the stories more loosely connected to the Brontës, is a great story. It keeps that same sense of danger, of mortality, that you get in Wuthering Heights.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Short Stories – The Best British Short Stories 2014, edited and compiled by Nicholas Royle

It’s about time, really, that I reviewed some short stories. After all, I am a massive fan of the short story, and it is to my mind a bit of a neglected form. Admittedly there are lots of brilliant online and in-print literary magazines publishing short stories, but most book shops don’t stock many collections of short stories, much to my sorrow (and not only because I write a lot of short stories myself). It’s just a lovely form. I am (in general, and in a completely and utterly subjective way) more fond of prose than poetry, but short stories, especially flash fiction, are sort of a perfect in-between point for the novel and the poem. Short stories have the concise power of poetry but the style and characterisation which I so love about novels. When you have less words there is, naturally I think, more of a focus on the words themselves than in a longer work. I love short stories that are snapshots, sketches, that imply so much more beyond the read words. I like that as a form they’re more suited to being read aloud than novels. I think I just like the idea that you can fit a whole story, the whole impact of a longer story, into such a small space. It’s beautiful.

So it seems about time that, eight months into this blog (well that’s scary) I should review a collection of short stories. And as we’re just into 2015 (also scary), I thought I’d start with the assembled Best British Short Stories 2014, edited by Nicholas Royle, featuring stories by Jonathan Gibbs, Jay Griffiths, Richard Knight, Vicki Jarrett, M John Harrison, Sian Melangell Dafydd, David Grubb, Anna Metcalfe, David Constantine, Louisa Palfreyman, Stuart Evers, Elizabeth Baines, Mick Scully, Ailsa Cox, Christopher Priest, Joanna Walsh, Adam Wilmington, Claire Dean, Joanne Rush and Philip Langeskov. Unsurprisingly I’m not going to attempt to review every short story in the collection, or I’d be here until a week on Tuesday, but I will write a little about each of my favourites, and my not-so favourites.