Glowing review of The Best British Short Stories 2012 in The Irish World
THE SHORT OF IT
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A COLLECTION of 20 very different short stories, Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt Publishing) echoes editor Nicholas Royle’s love of little chunks of weirdness. If there were any thread that holds them together, you could say it was that each has its own haunted quality – not in the spectral sense, more in the sense of another life, lived elsewhere, a loss, a presence that seems to disturb.
Royles has confessed that this collection, which includes relative unknowns as well as top authors like Jeanette Winterson, ‘might seem rather a dark one’. Yes, it does. But the best stories need light and shade, and there are moments of light, in every tale.
One that readers with an Irish background may enjoy is London-Irish author Jaki McCarrick’s “The Visit’ (winner of the 2010 Wasafiri Short Fiction Award).
Set in Ireland against the backdrop of the Clinton visit to Ireland in 2000, it talks about two olds friends finally meeting up again after many years, two friends who met over pints and craic at the Black Lion, Kilburn during their ‘wild years’ in London.
One has moved on from that lively part of his past, the other yearns to relieve those times and resists the reality of the quiet, rural village he moved back to. As only a true friend can, the former tells him he needs to do the same, to accept and enjoy his present, while he can.
“The Dark Space In The House In The Garden At The Centre Of The World’ by Robert Shearman is clever and slightly unbelievable, but also an extremely confident take on all the big themes of literature in a few pages – love, death, marriage, sex, religion, God. And in keeping, it’s more than a little eerie.
Stella Duffy’s simple, moving story, “The Brixton Beach’ explores the power of water and how often, when we go into the sea and swim, can lose the trappings of daily life and ease into our true selves.
Will Self’s “iAnna’ is one of the strongest additions. Without ruining the joy of reading it, let’s just say it’s a very clever story, full of imagination.
The unsettling ‘We Wave and Call’ by Jon McGregor, who has just won the Dublin IMPAC prize, uses the second person to get inside the skin of a young person on a down- ward spiral.
If the aim of this collection is to show the scope of the short story, then it does so well. In each case, in only a few pages, the author is able to draw the reader into another world, another atmosphere. Thought-provoking and highly recommended.