Monday, June 29, 2009

Short thought

The short story has received rather a lot of publicity recently, and I, for one, am glad. I think it is a fantastic medium which suffers - at least it has in the past - from literary snobbery. It is about time it was raised in status to its rightful place. Bring on the short story awards....well, there are two competitions that you, dear readers, may be interested in: the BBC annual short story competition, and the one in my list of fave blogs - over there, on the right.

So, what are you waiting for?

Well, in case you want a little inspiration, here are a few of my favourite short stories to whet your nibs and get those creative juices flowing. In no particular order:

The Bloody Chamber and Peter and the Wolf by Angela Carter, The Dolls House by Katherine Mansfield, The Little Match Girl and The Little Sea Maid by Hans Christian Anderson, Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood, The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy, The Signalman by Charles Dickens, and Mr Loveday's Little Outing by Evelyn Waugh.

Angela Carter's short fiction is so rich I can only read one story in a sitting, and still feel as though I've read a whole novel. She is at her best, for me, when she writes about wolves. She was influenced (see intro by Salman Rushdie in Burning Your Boats) by Shakespeare, and like the Bard, if a thing was worth writing about once it was worth repeating! But she (along with t'old Will - as I affectionately like to refer to him) could certainly pull it off.

Mansfield is at the other end of the spectrum from Carter; her stories are the epitome of reserve and understatement and are as breathtakingly succinct as they are panoramic. Although some of her short fiction is almost novella length, it still leaves me wanting more. I long for the novel length Mansfield, but alas, like Carter, she was cut down in the prime of her story telling prowess. I read somewhere that Mansfield wrote the only fiction that Virginia Woolf was ever jealous of, and it is understandable why. I love the way her metaphors climb out of the pages and grab me. The Dolls House is one of only three short fictions which can make me cry: the other two are by Hans Christian Anderson.

Atwood captures everything that is so perfect about her writing in Bluebeard's Egg. I have to wonder why it takes her so many more pages to say it in a novel. Plus I love anything to do with Bluebeard!

Thomas Hardy was apparently never so happy as when he had written something miserable, so The Withered Arm must have had him jumping for joy and giving high fives to the air! He perfectly captures the real grit and pain behind so many of those beautiful pastoral paintings of rustic idylls. I am blissfully miserable when I read his fiction and his poetry.

Dickens is Dickens! What's not to love? With The Signalman, his writing reminds me of that of his pal, Wilkie Collins - I'm thinking Woman in White here...woooooo - wonderfully atmospheric.

Waugh is the boiled sweet of fiction: his writing will melt like syrup but still manage to slice your tongue with its razor sharp astuteness. Dark and wry, the man was a genius, though in his longer fiction he does, admittedly, become a little tiresome. Reign it in a bit there Waugh!

Hope there's something you like in that little lot!


Andrea said...

I'm a big fan of Katherine Mansfield. The Dolls House is a great story. Her New Zealand ones are my particular favourites. I also think Thomas Hardy's short stories are really good as well. Recently I've really been enjoying the short stories of Colette and Cora Sandel - both of those authors show a great insight into their characters in a similar way to Mansfield. Thanks for the comment by the way!

Rachel Fenton said...

I haven't read their work but I'll have a look out for it now! Am very behind in my reading, writing is so time consuming, lol!