Catholic Herald, 23 October 1987
Review: Best Short Stories 1987 edited by Giles Gordon and David Hughes (Heinemann, £10.95) and The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories edited by Malcolm Bradbury (Viking £12.95)
Short stories may be called the Cinderellas of literature in that they are the least rewarded and least regarded and yet, apart from Poetry, I believe them to be the most difficult literary form to execute perfectly.
This fiendishly tricky medium calls for immediate involvement of the reader, completeness of character and plot, unity of mood and economy of means. If you re-read the first sentences of Boule de Suif, The Lady with the Lapdog or Bliss, you will find yourself immediately plunged into a tiny, complete world, perfect in style, original in concept and of a texture so close and exact that even one extra sentence would be too many.
It’s a hard craft to master where many try and few succeed. Can an author be a successful novelist and short-story writer? The qualities required for both genres are so different and the expansive possibilities of the one would seem to contradict the economies demanded of the other.
The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories edited by Malcolm Bradbury contains 34 stories by well-known writers, all published since 1945. All our old favourites are here, Graham Greene, Edna O’Brien, Salman Rushdie and Doris Lessing to name but four of a star-studded collection. There’s a “nasty” from Dylan Thomas and a mercifully brief one from the enigmatic Beckett entitled Ping.
My personal favourites were stories by Ted Hughes, Alan Sillitoe and Fay Weldon. Many of the stories you will have read elsewhere but this doesn’t matter, it’s good to have them all under one roof as it were. Even if that roof is somewhat weighty – this volume weighs a staggering 1 lb 12 oz! Well, it does consist of nearly 450 pages.
But short stories should be handy; you give them to people travelling or in hospital or you take them on holiday. You read two or three between other things, not the whole lot at one stretch and often at night before going to sleep.
Best Short Stories 1987 edited by Giles Gordon and David Hughes is ten ounces lighter, holds 20 stories and is about 300 pages long. This volume scores heavily over the Penguin Book with its biographical sketches of the authors, a point Mr Bradbury might copy in any further edition.
The Heinemann publication is the second in an annual series. Leading writers such as Beryl Bainbridge and Rose Tremain have stories here but there are interesting authors from further afield and my favourites in this book were stories by Dan Davin from New Zealand, Kate Grenville from Australia and Alice Munro from Canada.
A thoroughly modern collection with lots of talent and exciting new writing.