Eight Great Short Story Collections

I have always been an enormous fan of short stories, admiring them for how much plot and emotion they often manage to pack into such a small amount of space. I have found, however, that I do not review many short story collections for one reason or another. I therefore wanted to gather together eight volumes of short stories which I have read of late, and very much enjoyed.

I have included works by a single author, as well as anthologies, to provide the greatest variety possible. I hope that there will be something here to entice every reader, whether you are a veteran of the shorter form, or a newcomer.

1. Wave Me Goodbye: Stories of the Second World War, edited by Anne Boston
Includes Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, and Jean Rhys, amongst many others

‘This collection of short stories written by women when war was a way of life includes some of the finest women writers of that generation. War had traditionally been seen as a masculine occupation but these stories show how women were equal if different participants. Here, war is less about progress on the frontline of battle than about the daily struggle to keep homes, families and relationships alive; to snatch pleasure from danger, and strength from shared experience. The stories are about saying goodbye to husbands, lovers, brothers and sons — and sometimes years later trying to remake their lives anew. By turn comical, stoical, compassionate, angry and subversive these intensely individual voices bring a human dimension to the momentous events that reverberated around them and each opens a window on to a hidden landscape of war.’

2. Collected Stories by Angela Huth

‘These are vignettes and epiphanies that bear all the hallmarks of Angela’s writing skills: her eye for description, her ear for dialogue, her understanding of the subtle intricacies of human relationships. In ‘Men Friends’, a funeral reveals the truth about an odd couple’s relationship; in ‘The Bull’, a rampaging animal provides the impetus for a woman to change her life; and in ‘Sudden Dancer’, a husband’s plan to surprise his wife ends up with him being surprised himself.’

3. Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing, edited by Emma Timpany

‘Ghosts walk in the open and infidelities are conducted in plain sight. Two teenagers walk along a perfect beach in the anticipation of a first kiss. Time stops for nothing – not even for death. Sometimes time cracks, disrupting a fragile equilibrium. The stories are peopled with locals and incomers, sailors and land dwellers; a diver searches the deep for what she has lost, and forbidden lovers meet in secret places. Throughout, the writers’ words reveal a love of the incomparable Cornish landscape. This bold and striking new anthology showcases Cornwall’s finest contemporary writers, combining established and new voices.’

4. Cat Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell

‘Playful kittens and ruthless predators, beloved pets and witches’ familiars – cats of all kinds come alive in these pages. Maeve Brennan and Alice Adams movingly explore what cats can mean to their humans; Patricia Highsmith imagines the intriguingly alien feline point of view; Kipling celebrates the independence of cats in his timeless tale, ‘The Cat That Walked by Himself’. Cats flaunt their superiority in Angela Carter’s bawdy retelling of ‘Puss-in-Boots’ and Stephen Vincent Benét’s uncanny ‘The King of the Cats’, while humour abounds in stories by comic masters P.G. Wodehouse and Saki. The essential unknowableness of cats can inspire the most exotic flights of fancy: Italo Calvino’s secret city of cats in ‘The Garden of Stubborn Cats’; the disappearing animal in Ursula K. Le Guin’s brain-teasing ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’; the cartoon rodent and his cartoon nemesis in Steven Millhauser’s ‘Cat ‘n’ Mouse’. In these and other stories, this delightful anthology offers cat lovers a many-faceted tribute to the mysterious objects of their affection.’

5. The Beauties: Essential Stories by Anton Chekhov

‘Chekhov was without doubt one of the greatest observers of human nature in all its untidy complexity. His short stories, written throughout his life and newly translated for this essential collection, are exquisite masterpieces in miniature. Here are tales offering a glimpse of beauty, the memory of a mistaken kiss, daydreams of adultery, a lifetime of marital neglect, the frailty of life, the inevitability of death, and the hilarious pomposity of ordinary men and women. They range from the light­hearted comic tales of his early years to some of the most achingly profound stories ever composed.’

6. Smoke, and Other Early Stories by Djuna Barnes – my own review

Djuna Barnes’ short stories have proved to be very difficult to get hold of, so when I spotted this near pristine Virago edition in Skoob Books in London for just £4, I could not resist snapping it up. I adore Nightwood, and whilst this collection does not quite reach the same heady heights, it is still well worth seeking out. Barnes herself described this collection as juvenilia. A lot of the tales here – in fact, almost all of them – are very strange in terms of both plot and execution, but there is a wonderful, beguiling sense to them too. One can see the ideas which she adapted and carried into Nightwood. Inventive and absorbing, Smoke and Other Early Stories is just the collection which I was expecting from Barnes; startling and powerful.

7. Hieroglyphics and Other Stories by Anne Donovan

‘A beautiful collection—charming, witty, and touching—these stories give voice to a variety of different characters: from the little girl who wants to look “subtle” for her father’s funeral, a child who has an email pen pal on Jupiter, and an old lady who becomes a star through “zimmerobics.” Often writing in a vibrant Glaswegian vernacular, Donovan deftly gives her characters authenticity with a searing power, aided and abetted by tender subtlety.’

8. Games at Twilight and Other Stories by Anita Desai

‘Set in contemporary Bombay and other cities, these stories reflect the kaleidoscope of urban life – evoking the colour, sounds and white-hot heat of the city. Warm, perceptive, humorous and touched with sadness, Anita Desai’s stories are peopled with intensely individual characters – the man spiritually transformed by the surface texture of a melon; the American wife who, homesick for the verdant farmlands of Vermont, turns to the hippies in the Indian hills; the painter living in a slum who fills his canvasses with flowers, birds and landscapes he has never seen.’

Are you a fan of short stories? Which are your favourite collections?


Short Story Series: Part Two

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
‘In The Girl in the Flammable Skirt Aimee Bender has created a world where nothing is quite as it seems. From a man suffering from reverse evolution to a lonely wife who waits for her husband to return from war; to a small town where one girl has a hand made of fire and another has one made of ice. These stories of men and women whose lives are shaped and sometimes twisted by the power of extraordinary desires take us to a place far beyond the imagination.’

2. Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres
”Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding, where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband, and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed. Based on de Bernieres’ recollections of the village he grew up in, Notwithstanding is a funny and moving depiction of a charming vanished England.

3. Collected Short Stories by Truman Capote
My reviews can be found here and here.

4. Black Venus by Angela Carter
‘Extraordinary and diverse people inhabit this rich, ripe, occasionally raucous collection of short stories. Some are based on real people – Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s handsome and reluctant muse who never asked to be called the Black Venus, trapped in the terminal ennui of the poet’s passion, snatching at a little lifesaving respectability against all odds…Edgar Allen Poe, with his face of a actor, demonstrating in every thought and deed how right his friends were when they said ‘No man is safe who drinks before breakfast.’ And some of these people are totally imaginary. Such as the seventeenth century whore, transported to Virginia for thieving, who turns into a good woman in spite of herself among the Indians, who have nothing worth stealing. And a girl, suckled by wolves, strange and indifferent as nature, who will not tolerate returning to humanity. Angela Carter wonderfully mingles history, fiction, invention, literary criticism, high drama and low comedy in a glorious collection of stories as full of contradictions and surprises as life itself.’

5. Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler
‘In these tales, young women go on long and difficult quests, wicked stepmothers turn children into geese and tsars ask dangerous riddles, with help or hindrance from magical dolls, cannibal witches, talking skulls, stolen wives, and brothers disguised as wise birds. Half the tales here are true oral tales, collected by folklorists during the last two centuries, while the others are reworkings of oral tales by four great Russian writers: Alexander Pushkin, Nadezhda Teffi, Pavel Bazhov and Andrey Platonov. In his introduction to these new translations, Robert Chandler writes about the primitive magic inherent in these tales and the taboos around them, while in the afterword, Sibelan Forrester discusses the witch Baba Yaga.’

6. The Tales of Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
‘Anton Chekhov’s short fiction is admired and cherished by readers the world over. This stunning boxed set brings together the largest, most comprehensive selection of his stories, all full of humor, truth, and vast insight. Included are the familiar masterpieces-“The Kiss,” “The Darling,” and “The Lady with the Dog”–as well as several brilliant but lesser-known tales such as “A Blunder,” “Hush!,” and “Champagne.” The entire collection is introduced by Richard Ford’s perceptive essay “Why We Like Chekhov. while each individual volume includes a brief reminiscence on the meaning of Chekhov from a celebrated author, among them Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey, Cynthia Ozick, and Russell Banks. Amidst a sea of Chekhov translations, Constance Garnett, who brought Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev to the English-speaking world, has a style particularly suited to Chekhov’s prose. Her benchmark translations enable readers to immerse themselves in his world, experiencing the breadth of his talent in one voice.’

7. Paris Tales, edited by Helen Constantine
Paris Tales is a highly evocative collection of stories by French and Francophone writers who have been inspired by specific locations in this most visited of capital cities. The twenty-two stories – by well-known writers including Nerval, Maupassant, Colette, and Echenoz – provide a captivating glimpse into Parisian life from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. The stories take us on an atmospheric tour of the arrondissements and quartiers of Paris, charting the changing nature of the city and its inhabitants, and viewing it through the eyes of characters such as the provincial lawyer’s wife seeking excitement, a runaway schoolboy sleeping rough, and a lottery-winning policeman. From the artists’ haunts of Montmartre to the glamorous cafes of Saint-Germain, from the shouts of demonstrators on Boul Mich’ to the tranquillity of Parc Monceau, Paris Tales offers a fascinating literary panorama of Paris. Illustrated with maps and striking photographs, the book will appeal to all those who wish to uncover the true heart of this seductive city.’

8. Astray by Emma Donoghue
‘With the turn of each page, the characters that roam across these pages go astray. They are emigrants, runaways, drifters; gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross borders of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, under duress or incognito. A sequence of fourteen fact-inspired fictions about travels to, in and from North America, Astray offers a past in scattered pieces, a surprising and moving history for restless times.’

Purchase from The Book Depository


Upcoming Plays

Studying A Streetcar Named Desire presently at college has rekindled both Kirsty and I’s passion for plays. Having recently discussed how much we both adore them and would love the opportunity to read more, I thought I would include a list of all the plays we hope to procure and (re)read over the next few months, alongside our monthly reads:

(Prone to expansion)

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard
“Amadeus” by Peter Schaffer
“The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
“The Misanthrope” by Molière
“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov
“Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles 


Sunday Snapshot: Short Story Collections

Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
As far as contemporary authors go, Kate Atkinson is among my favourites. My re-reading of Not the End of the World has confirmed that she is one of a kind – witty, humorous, imaginative and sympathetic towards her cast of characters. I loved this short story collection, I really did. Atkinson’s writing is sublime and I love the many twists and turns her tales take. She is a true master of her craft.

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier is such a wonderful storyteller. I absolutely loved the majority of the stories in this collection, and her writing was exemplary throughout. Each story was clever and contained a great twist, along with a distinctive narrator. I found the last story a little weak in comparison to the rest of the collection though, which was a shame.

Johnny Panic and The Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath
I am absolutely in awe of Plath’s writing. Her prose is beautiful and incredibly startling in . I loved the mixture of short stories and essays throughout. My favourite stories were ‘Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams’, ‘The Fifty-Ninth Bear’, ‘Mothers’, ‘Ocean 1212-W’, the diary extracts, ‘Tongues of Stone’, and ‘Stone Boy with Dolphin’. The book was absolutely wonderful and I’m so glad I’ve read it.

A Curtain of Green and Other Stories by Eudora Welty
Thoughts about the book:
– I love the sense of place which Welty crafts. She paints such a vivid picture of Southern towns in my mind, and her descriptions of the natural world are so well done that they become stunning photographs.
– I admire Welty’s use of different literary techniques, styles and narrative voices.
– I love the comparisons which she makes between humans and creatures throughout.
– There are some great differences between individual tales in this collection. Some I loved, but others I know I won’t revisit through choice. In this respect, the collection is quite an uneven one.
– I like how she wove in the differing roles and expectations held for men and women in society.

Thoughts about ‘Why I Live at the P.O.:
– I really liked the narrative style, and the way that so many surprised exclamations were woven in.
– I found all of the characters intriguing.
– I liked the way in which she presented the family dynamic.
– I really disliked the fact that everyone looked down at and judged Sister, deeming Stella-Rondo far more worthy of their love and attention. The disparity between the siblings was so well drawn. I must admit that I was firmly on Sister’s side throughout.

Favourite stories:
‘Lily Daw and the Three Ladies’, ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’, ‘The Whistle’, ‘A Memory’ (a beautiful story), ‘Clytie’ and ‘Flowers for Marjorie’.

The Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
From the first page, I admired Chekhov’s writing greatly. His phrasing is glorious, and his descriptions beautiful. Throughout, the sense of place is built up marvellously. I love the disparities between each of the tales, and can certainly see why Katherine Mansfield so adored him. As psychological studies, these stories are so insightful, and it is clear that Chekhov knows his characters inside out.


Flash Reviews (26th August 2013)

The Photographed Cat, edited by Arnold Arluke and Lauren Rolfe
Lauren Rolfe, one of the contributors to this volume, is ‘a collector of early-twentieth century animal photographs’,

My dear little cat

My dear little cat

something which I find utterly adorable. The whole idea of this book is lovely, in fact. The introduction is nicely written and set out, and I love the way in which it ties in the history of mankind and such things as the Suffrage movement, all the while making it entirely applicable to the world’s growing love of felines. I like the academic feel of the book, too. Some of the photographs were incredibly sweet, and my personal favourites involved cats being dressed up. (As you can see from the image I’ve used at the start of this review, my own cat adores being dressed up). Now for the negatives. In the Kindle version of this book, the footnotes are a little odd. It would have been far better, I feel, to have them all collected in one place at the end of book with hyperlinks leading from the corresponding text, rather than being plonked in any which way. I was reading a paragraph, and it was cut off right in the middle by a footnote, which became rather irksome when it happened repeatedly. The book felt disjointed at times in consequence. The format, in this sense, was not overly good for a Kindle book, and the photographs were tiny unless you patiently went through each one and enlarged them.

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
I read parts of Uncle Vanya and The Seagull during a theatre module which I took whilst at University, and for some reason, I didn’t finish either play. Here, the characters interact so well together, and some of their dialogue exchanges are truly stunning. There are some incredibly interesting ideas presented in this play, particularly with regard to social issues, and Chekhov presents the human condition marvellously. The scenes blended into one another seamlessly. Chekhov’s writing is lovely, and the vignette at the end is truly beautiful.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett
The Family from One End Street is very sweet, and it reminded me a little of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories. I liked the way in which every one of the characters was so diverse, and how separate chapters placed their focus upon a different one of them in turn. All of their adventures were well plotted and beautifully written. I would have adored this as a child, I’m sure. A perfectly heartwarming little book, and a lovely choice for a summer read, whether you are a child or not.

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
I have been looking forward to reading Binocular Vision for several years, and I dearly hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed when I began it over the weekend. I liked how diverse the stories were at first, but I must admit that those which featured the same characters didn’t appeal to me all that much. I liked the freshness and individuality of those tales where everything and everyone was new. The random order of the tales worked well, and throughout I believe that the most developed characters were the children.

As with the majority of short story collectiions, some of the vignettes in Binocular Vision were far stronger than others, and the themes and settings did occasionally blend into one another a little, which was a shame. Pearlman does a marvellous job of presenting many themes, however, ranging from identity, society and conformity – or the lack thereof – to religion, illness and the fine balance between and fragility of life and death.

My favourite stories were ‘Inbound’, ‘Tess’, ‘Home Schooling’, ‘Granski’, ‘Capers’, ‘On Junius Bridge’, ‘Lineage’, ‘Vallies’ and ‘Self-Reliance’.