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The Best British Short Stories 2011. Part II

July 23, 2011 8 comments

The Best British Short Stories 2011, presented by Nicholas Royle.

Here is the second post about The Best British Short Stories 2011 published by Salt Publishing. As in the first one, I will only mention the short stories I preferred in the last ten ones. It’s my personal taste; it doesn’t mean that the others aren’t good.

The Rental Heart is SF, it takes the expression “heartbroken” literally and imagines what would happen if someone leaves you and afterwards your heart is actually “shatter[ed] like a shotgut pellet, shards lodging in [your] guts” Kirsty Logan imagines you could rent a new heart and change it when you change of partner. That leads us to feelings and emotions without risk, very intriguing. It’s a symptom of our societies where risk is a bad thing. In France the “principe de précaution” was included in the constitution in 2005. We want security in our everyday life. Love is a risk for your heart. Kirsty Logan fantasies about a way to secure your heart against pain, scratches and other marks. It made me think. I even started to imagine what kind of novel it could be, a world where broken hearts don’t exist.

Notes on a Love Story is an original tale in its form. As mentioned in the title, the important here are the notes. The short story is constructed around a four pages story of Sam and Sarah leaving London to spend a week-end in Sussex. It’s not that important. It’s a pretext to include long notes and digressions. Sam is a writer and in one note, he thinks about our expectation of love. We learn about love and relationships in stories (books or films). He says that as a writer he contributes to creating the imagery of what a love relationship could be. At the same time, his own love stories influence his writing. It’s a circle and as a circle, it has no beginning and no end. Well done, Philip Langeskov.

Slut’s Hair is about a woman harassed by her husband. I was horrified by what happens in that short story.

“Three years. That was all the time it had taken for him to become somebody she didn’t know, and make her into somebody she didn’t recognise in the mirror, somebody who had given up her job because he told her to, somebody who would sit in a chair at the kitchen table and let him prise her teeth out with electrician’s pliers. Now, she was sick and in pain, and all she wanted to do was get away from him, but she knew she couldn’t. She was too scared.”

The atmosphere is full of anxiety, violence and self-depreciation. I needed to pause in my reading, gasping for air. As a woman, her fear of him reached me. No one should be living that way.

Tristam and Isolde made me feel ill at ease right from the start. The crushing love described sounded unhealthy, I couldn’t explain to myself why I felt so compelled to twitch on my chair. It’s remarkably constructed and the ending, unexpected but so rational when you think about it afterwards, is well brought up.

When the Door Closed, It Was Dark made me claustrophobic. I felt compassion for that poor girl sent as an au pair in a developing country among strangers who have quite another conception of family and individual liberties than her. I would have wanted to steal her from there and put her on the first plane home.

I liked Epiphany too, where Charlie meets his father for the first time after he looked for him. His personal history is not what his mother had told him and he has to swallow a bunch of disturbing news.  

It took me a while to read that collection because I didn’t want to read two stories in a row. As they are from different writers, I found it hard to switch from one atmosphere to the other just by turning a page. I wonder what these short stories mean about today’s Great Britain. Reading your writers, it’s not a funny place to live. I didn’t laugh a lot, I’m afraid. Where’s your legendary sense of humour? Did I miss something as English isn’t my native language? Diner of the Dead Alumni was the only entertaining one. Otherwise, the themes are rather dark: war, death, broken hearts, harassment, panic in closed environments, oedipal love, strange fascination for birds, rotten marriages…Several stories took the breath out of me, not with fascination but with stress as their setting is in a heavy atmosphere. SF and ghost stories are well represented, with at least five stories. Several stories played upon the relationship between the reader and the writer, showing the process of creation.

If I had to choose five stories among the twenty, it would be Emergency Exit by Lee Rourke (best style, really), Love Silk Food by Leone Ross (great construction of the story and wonderful style), The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan (original idea, efficient style but not so imaginative), Notes on a Love Story by Philip Langeskov (thought provoking in the form and the substance) and Slut’s Hair by John Burnside (chilling).  

The End.

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Here is the list of the short stories included in this collection:

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