The tales within Head of Zeus’ That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written have been selected and introduced by David Miller. The book’s blurb states, ‘Profound, lyrical, shocking, wise: the short story is capable of almost anything’, and goes on to describe the way in which the stories range ‘from the essential to the unexpected, the traditional to the surreal… Here are childhood favourites and neglected masters, twenty-first century wits and national treasures, Man Booker Prize winners and Nobel Laureates’.
In his witty introduction, in which he leads an informed discussion about the power of the short story, Miller writes of the Herculean task of selecting the one hundred best tales ever written: ‘I’ve tried to remain dispassionate, searching for the finest, ending up being wholly and, I’d argue, usefully passionate. I have spent weeks, then months, quarrelling with myself (and others) and, now there is a result, some will complain I’ve not included a or y, or h or z or given due attention to the burgeoning literary genre or scene in delete as appropriate‘. He goes on to say that ‘… as a short story is already a distillation, it gives the writer a far harder task to achieve everything, not just any thing. Every thing in this book is as good as it can get’.
So many wonderful authors have been included in this anthology; just glancing at the full list on the back of the book before I began to read, I picked out Virginia Woolf, Anton Chekhov, Roald Dahl, William Maxwell, Ian McEwan and Flannery O’Connor. The range of contributors is diverse, particularly when one takes into account the wealth of original languages in which the tales were originally penned. Primarily, those in That Glimpse of Truth are English, but there are stories translated from Danish, Yiddish and Vietnamese to name but three. The stories have been ordered by the chronological date of birth of each author as, says Miller, ‘that seemed easiest’. It is as good a way as any to organise a collection of tales, and there is consequently a marvellous progression from beginning to end.
The book’s title has been taken from a quote by Joseph Conrad, on why he chose to write within the short story form: ‘My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel… and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask’. That Glimpse of Truth begins with a story from ‘The Book of Jonah’, and encompasses, among others, the Brothers Grimm, Nikolai Gogol, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Stefan Zweig, Edith Pearlman and Lorrie Moore. The format of the book makes it a perfect volume from which to read one or two stories per day. So many themes, perspectives, characters and emotions have been encompassed. There are stories within stories, and also those which ask wider questions.
That Glimpse of Truth has been beautifully designed. The book itself is lovely; a red hardback with a nicely designed dustjacket and ribbon bookmarks. The only drawback is that there are rather a lot of mistakes within the majority of the stories, and it is a real shame that it was not better edited. Regardless, at over 900 pages, That Glimpse of Truth is sure to keep readers amused over the entire festive season. It is a marvellous collection, and has been thoughtfully put together, so much so that it is an absolute delight to read.