It is a curious thing, but in Russia Anton Chekhov is not especially remembered as a playwright. Turns out that the Russians think of Anton primarily as a short story specialist, and if you have read The Lady And The Dog, to name but one of his many miniature masterpieces, you might understand their point of view.
It seems though that British people don’t tend to venerate short story tellers quite as much our Russian cousins. Yet we have a rich tradition of short story telling in both classic and experimental literary forms.
The last year has seen the release of a trio of books that have shown how the art form can be taken in a new and adventurous directions.
Not a new author, or even a collection of stories stories per se, The Unmapped Country is the labour of love of Jennifer Hodgson. Fired by a passion for experimental British novelist Ann Quin, whose Berg is one of the most innovative and daring novels of the 1960s, Jennifer turned detective to round up all her unpublished fragments and collected them in this book. While Nude and Seascape and Tripticks are as engaging and imaginative as the best of the author’s work, it is A Double Room, a beautifully captured observation of a nervous young woman and a painfully graceless older man’s seaside jaunt, which is is the highlight. As relevant now in the #metoo era as it was back in the mid 60s Quin never wastes a word in painting a beautifully acerbic picture of a clearly doomed affair.
This book came out last year on the wonderful Influx Press and has been enchanting readers ever since. Williams’ prose is imaginative, playful and at times surreal, yet always engaging. It is a book you could power through in an afternoon, but really need to savour. There are so many wonderful moments, but my favourite is Platform, in which a tale of painful goodbye where a cameo role of a departing toupee eventually takes centre stage. You get clever rats in Mischief, and in the most conventional of the tales, a story about swimming hedgehogs in Spines.
And here’s another collection also on Influx Press which makes its bow in paperback this week. Clare Fisher has already written an ingenious but thought provoking novel in All the Good Things. With How The light Gets In she delivers small, but beautifully formed fragments which unpick human relationships – the wrong thing – the intrusion of technology into everyday life – in things smartphones make you less likely to do when in a private place with or without other people – and the Vicar of Dibley in mine. Pretty much every story packs a punch somewhere along the way even if it is hidden in a velvet glove. And like Attrib the best of How The Light Gets in reverberates round your head for days after.