Autumn (and a bit of Winter) in Shorts
I’ll keep this… short, because I haven’t finished reading many collections recently. Nevertheless, here’s some updates on things I’ve been enjoying.
Silvina Ocampo, Thus Were Their Faces. Toying with her readers as surely as she toys with her characters, Ocampo has a strange and icy presence on the page. Her stories feature slightly fantastical and superstitious elements, and there is a constant feeling that she is judging and enacting revenge. Quoted in the introduction, her contemporary Jorge Luis Borges writes of Ocampo, “She sees us as if we were made of glass, sees and forgives us. It is useless to try to fool her.” As a reader, I was left with a feeling that she always knew more than I did, and was enjoying demonstrating her superiority. It was oddly compelling…
Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, Volume 6. Ever since 2013 when I was featured in the Bristol Short Story Anthology and was bowled over by the whole organisation’s friendliness and sheer enthusiasm for supporting short story writing, they’ve kind of felt like my team. Picking up a copy of the year’s anthology every October has become an Autumn ritual, and it is always a really good collection. Of course I don’t always agree 100% with the judges, and my very favourite from this year’s competition was not included in the top three. Marbles by Penny Simpson reads a little like Terry Gilliam and Tom Waits collaborating to tell a bizarre war story and is, for me, the pick of this year’s bunch.
.357 Over on .357, there has been a torrent of work in recent weeks and months, which is good news for anyone who has been following the adventures of Brother Skunk, ache1 and cog! Reading through this mass of assembled fragments, the reader’s understanding grows slowly and the style of writing gets in under the skin. Usually these pieces consist of conversations, often with one character relating a story to another. As I have remarked to the author (who shall remain anonymous, in line with the practice on the site itself), the way these conversations are written means they burrow in to the brain and start to be fool you into mistaking them for real conversations you heard, not fictional ones you read (this is a good thing, and impressive).
In Heaven Everything Is Fine – Fiction Inspired By David Lynch. I’ve found this a bit hit and miss so far – the problem being that it requires just the right amount of Lynchian influence. Too similar to the auteur’s work and it comes across as a pastiche, too different and it may as well not be in there.
Diao Dou, Points Of Origin. This is an excellent collection by an acclaimed Chinese writer, which I haven’t yet given the attention it deserves. The parts of this I have read have been ridiculous and funny, defined by a struggle between the idea of a distinction between self and state.
(So maybe I will write some more about Diao Dou in the new year when I’ve read more of his book, along with some short fiction I received for Christmas (hurrah! and thanks) – The Lean Third by James Kelman as well as both Volumes One and Two of the brilliant new Penguin Book Of The British Short Story).