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.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Books – Paper Towns, by John Green

I think this is the first time I’m reviewed two books by the same author. I find this quite exciting. So, having read and enjoyed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I was quite curious to read Paper Towns. What I like about John Green is that his books are young adult fiction without being young adult stories. By which I mean that he writes YA books not by writing simpler stories or by dumbing down, but by writing adult (for want of a better word) stories that happen to be about teenagers. Both of his novels that I’ve read – The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns – are still in a sense coming of age stories, as so many YA books are, but they are about more than growing up – or at least they are about a very specific kind of growing up.

Paper Towns, published in 2008, follows high-school student Q. in his long infatuation with his next-door neighbour and childhood friend Margo. When Margo disappears, seemingly leaving clues behind her to where she has gone, Q. and his friends attempt to track her down. It’s a fascinating book, structured in three parts: ‘The String’, ‘The Grass’ and ‘The Vessel’, all named after a key metaphor. It’s a very effective structure, and nicely reflected how Q. shapes his life around Margo. It’s in fact the last part, ‘The Vessel’, taking pace over barely twenty-four hours, that is my favourite. I love the fast pace of it, although in fact I sped through the entire novel, reading it in about two hours on a train journey (bizarrely I also read The Fault in Our Stars on a train journey).

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Books – One Day, by David Nicholls

This is yet another one of those books I meant to read when it came out (in 2009), but have only just managed to. Still, better late than never. Having finally read it, I can also now allow myself to watch the film, and having seen the trailer I’m curious to try out two hours or Anne Hathaway’s poor attempts at a Yorkshire accent. It also apparently has a few scenes filmed in Cubana, the greatest cocktail bar ( / restaurant, but I’ve actually never eaten there) in London, which I find more exciting than I should. But anyway, in a brief introduction it’s a novel that spans twenty years, each chapter picking up on the exact same day of every year, exploring the lives and relationship of two people, Emma and Dexter.