It sometimes feel that in December you can’t move for lists and columns setting out the best books/ films/ albums of the year, so I thought I’d have a bash at it as well. But I’m doing it for short stories, as I read quite a lot of them. In part this is because I’m a big reader, and it’s also part of my quest to become a better writer. Unfortunately, as I’m always behind on my reading (if only we could hvae a moratorium on publishing new books so that I could catch-up), this list based on what I’ve read over the course of the year as opposed to what has been published.
Helen Simpson is one of my favourite short story writers, and her book Four Bare Legs in A Bed is the best collection of short stories I’ve read this year. Although it’s a slim volume (just 192 pages), each of the stories is practically perfect. This volume is themed around relationships, sex and motherhood, and I especially enjoyed An Interesting Condition about an ante-natal class. Having gone to some a couple of years ago I was able to recognise how well observed it is, and the midwife knitting a demonstration uterus whilst taking the class is an image that has kept popping back into my mind (one class we went to an orange with a smiley face drawn on got forced through a tubey-grip). Her stories are smart, funny and always engaging. You can find it on Amazon here:
One story that really touched me was Lionel Shriver’s Prepositions, which was nominated for this year’s BBC National Short Story Award. It’s told in the form of a letter from someone whose husband died on 9/11 to a friend whose husband died in 9/11, and how the difference in the preposition has affected their lives. It’s a really beautifully written story that explores how we commemorate people who have died in both large-scale attacks or tragedies and the tensions between personal and public grief. It’s also very thought-provoking and has caused me to think in a different way about the events of that day – what happened to the people who needed the emergency services on 9/11 – after all people still have heart attacks and their houses still catch fire even if there is a large scale attack happening elsewhere. If you have a Times subscription, you can find it here.
Finally, I sometimes attend Liars’ League (not as often as I like), where actors read out stories that have been submitted by writers on a set theme. I especially enjoyed If Love Were A Triceratops by David McGrath. It was written for the February event, Short and Sweet, and is a man’s attempt to find the perfect way to express his love in a Valentine’s Card. He moves through a series of ever-more torturous metaphors, before dismissing them after discovering some flaw. At one point he settles on the ill triceratops in the film of Jurassic Park as the perfect vehicle to express his love, but even that isn’t up to the task. Yes, I’m probably a bit in love with this story because Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films. But it’s also the funniest short story I’ve come across this year. You can find the Liars’ League performance (and me guffawing) here.