Saturday, 30 June 2012
A Year in Books 2012 - The Best British Short Stories 2011
For 8 years between 1986 and 1994 Minerva published an annual anthology of the "best" short stories edited by Giles Gorden and David Hughes. Reading short stories requires a different kind of reading rhythm, you cant leave one hanging , like you can a chapter of a novel , you need to finish it in one go. Also, if it is a collection by different authors, then like those professional tasters you need to cleanse your palate between each one.
I don't really know why I didn't read many short stories , I'd loved the early Ian Mcewan books, and Raymond Carver's collections even then I would keep coming back to , already showing signs of dependency.
I got given the first collection by one of my housemates in Leeds who had got it free in a magazine and from then on started to look forward each year to the new volume's publication, their distinctive covers and spines looking good on the bookshelf .. and then they stopped.
I kept looking in bookshops thinking surely someone else will take up the mantle but although lots of collections existed , there was nothing claiming to be the best of each year that looked like it would become an annual fixture.
However Nicholas Royle did take inspiration (as he says in the introduction) and so far a best of 2011 and 2012 have appeared so hopes are high ( the covers are awful though!) He follows a similar principle to the Minerva collection. The criteria is that they have been published in the relevant year either in a collection or stand alone in a magazine and they are what he feels are the best. The difference is to limiting his choice to British authors
Like the original the stories in the 2011 edition cover all the ususal bases. There is a disturbing , semi Tales of the Unexpected one from Booker winner Hilary Mantel. There is a one with a sci fi flavour , a surreal tale of the heart ,one slightly experimental one with end notes (for me the worst one here), a couple where not much happens but which say an awful lot and ones with the final paragraph twist which don't somehow say as much. The best ones leave you wanting more , the worst outstay their welcome like a troublesome aunt.
The 2 best are a tale of domestic abuse by John Burnside called Slut's Hair, which doesn't waste a sentence and sucks you right into the banality of the horror. The second is Alison Moore's When the Door Closed it Was Dark" and features an English au pair which builds from unease to a sense of dread with an ending that knocks you for six.
Are they the best of 2011 , well who knows , but I'm happy someone is back to make the choice for me , and 2012's edition is on the too read shelf.
You can buy The Best British Short Stories 2011 here