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87 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2001
In the introduction, the editor, Malcom Bradbury, sets out his intention in producing this collection: one was to 'display...the achievement of some the best work produced by the strongest of...recent Britsh authors'; and the other, what Bradbury claims to be a more difficult task, to be 'broadly representative, so that the book might give not only a reasonable idea of the variety, but also the general trends and directions that have been taken by British fiction in the years since 1945'.
Bradbury succeeds in both attempts. This is not paritcularly surprising since this is Bradbury's territory. The collection contains works by some of the biggest names in British Literature: William Golding, Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, John Fowles, William Trevor, Ian McEwan, and Kazuo Ishiguro--to name a few. The reason, Bradbury explains, is 'that many of the authors in this collection are our major writers of prose-fiction in general'.
Some of the stories are definitely modern, with self reflexiveness, lots of white spaces, single line paragraphs, whimsical subjects, and inscrutable titles; there are pseudo-stories, stories pretending to be something else when all the while the author is trying to tell a story without letting you know the story is being told since it was the 1960's or thereabouts when the writing a straight forward story was almost a shameful act. But none of this stories are the kind found at the height of modernism, where the reader had no idea what was being said. Each of these authors are aiming at something, something new and different, and not just for the sake of only new or different, (though there are a few that fall into that) but going beyond the traditional story and exploring the truth in new ways. There are also some 'straight' acts. And these are the ones that stay in your mind, unlike the others which are fun to read for the moment but which you then tend to forget. Of the former category is Kazuo Ishiguro's tightly written gem 'A Family Supper'. A simple story about the return of a son to his native Japan after his mother's death. In the few pages Ishiguro shows the crumbling of a family. Another story in a similar mode is Graham Greene's 'The Invisble Japanese Gentlemen'. In both cases the commentary on life is left to the reader. In this category one can also include William Golding, V.S. Pritchett, William Trevor, and Ian McEwan. (Here the author simply leaves this thread and jumps to something else).
If you want to know the shape and growth of British Literature, and quickly, or if you want to read something different then this book is a good starting point.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
My favourite story of this collection is, of all things, a disappearance mystery The Enigma by John Fowles. A successful city broker as well as a Conservative Member of Parliament, John Marcus Fielding had a good marriage, an attractive and well-liked wife, and a beautiful house in the country. As the story gathers the pieces of his life together and no explanation emerges from the initial investigations the case is passed over to a Special Branch Sergeant, Jennings. It is his investigation into the MP’s disappearance that gradually comes to suggest one possible outcome to the puzzle. I especially liked this story because of the personable Sergeant Jennings, and the conversations he has in the pursuit of a solution.

Of the other stories I also liked Angus Wilson’s story of a chancer on the make in the environs of the minor aristocracy More Friend Than Lodger, and I also would put the story by Kingsley Amis, My Enemy’s Enemy and Ted Hughs’ beautiful and terrifying story The Rain Horse on a par with both of them, the latter is especially atmospheric and eerie as it describes an attack by a horse on a man walking across country in the rain.

The inimitable Doris Lessing contributes a strange story To Room Nineteen, about a woman who has everything, a wonderful husband, four beautiful children, a beautiful house and no money worries. In spite of this she lacks one thing, solitude. She takes a room in a seedy hotel and takes herself off there solely for the pleasure of knowing that nobody knows where she is. I feel that many woman will identify with that feeling. However much one has in material terms, there comes a time when you want to be free of the obligation to be who you manifestly are, to escape yourself and be other than the things that confine and thereby define you. I especially enjoyed this story, but felt the conclusion went a bit too far for verisimilitude.

Fay Weldon’s contribution was almost the obverse of Lessing’s dilemma and reminded me of a Georgina Hammick story, whose title I’ve forgotten, that painted a hellish picture of an overbearing husband whom the wife has to placate and kow-tow to with a ceaseless domestic servitude, and a family commentary amounting to emotional cruelty.

Other stories range from Rose Tremain’s My Wife Is A White Russian – a man reaching the end of his functional life left to the care of an indifferent wife, to the scurrilously funny story by Martin Amis, Let Me Count The Times about a man obsessed with cataloguing his sex life – even when it mostly takes place in his imagination. A very good collection of stories, no longer "modern", perhaps, but British at it’s erstwhile best.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2011
I like short stories although some of these were incomprehensible to me. Fortunately, some were reasonably enjoyable, and a few were extraordinarily resonant. There is such a broad range of stories that like me, you are bound to find some that strike a vibrant chord. It is these few masterpieces that make the book a good read and worth buying. The reader has such a choice that you will be salivating and your individual taste will be well catered. My favourite was 'To Room Nineteen' by Doris Lessing, whilst my second favourite,"Let me Count the Times' by Martin Amis made me laugh. Fay Weldon's 'Weekend' had me wanting to punch all the characters apart from Martha who I wanted to uplift so she no longer played the role of doormat to perfection.

The length of the stories are ideal for picking up the book, reading one, and then putting it down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2014
I counted about 20 good stories and 10 bad to awful ones by the time I reached near the end. At least it gives you an idea about the whole spectrum from excellent to awful. Much better than my other purchase ' The best British short stories 2011'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2014
...so says David Lodge in his story, titled Hotel des Boobs. The holiday voyeur, however, will find him (or her) self poorly served by this racktastic collection of short-fiction, offering, as it does, a more than distracting array of stories and styles.

We have the silent desolation of Elizabeth Bowen's Mysterious Kor thrust against the bustling wartime energy of Kingsley Amis' My Enemy's Enemy. We have affairs and unhappy marriages, spiteful rivalries and blackmail and sex. We even have one episode of man versus horse (thankfully sex-free). There's no soft and fluffy genre writing here either, just Class A literary Acapulco Gold. So even when Dylan Thomas' The Burning Baby touches on incestuous horror, and J.G. Ballard's Memories of the Space Age features a post-apocalyptic, time-leached Cape Canaveral, you never need worry that your all-important principles of belletristic taste be compromised. Believe me, these guys are professionals.

One thing that struck me as a little off was the title. The stories collected here were all originally published sometime between 1947 and 1986 (ish). That's a world before mobile phones, before the fall of Communism, before me; a strange world where all computers wrote in green font on black screens. Plenty has changed in the world since, so it seems a little misplaced to call these Modern short-stories. Perhaps The Penguin Book of British 20th Century Short Stories is somewhat less catchy.

Anyway, it's a small hang-up, and those old dudes could write. I mean, just consider the depth of this line from Martin Amis' Let Me Count The Times:
"He closed his eyes and he could see his wife crammed against the headboard with that one leg sticking up in the air; he could hear the sound her breasts made as he two-handedly slapped them practically out of alignment."
Amen.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2010
I first read this book about 20 years ago after finding it in a second hand shop and loved it. I have always been fascinated by the art of the short story and this book is a perfect example of how good it can be when done well.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A diverse selection of stories - some reminiscent and some very modern - verging on odd! A good collection demonstrating the art of short story writing by a wide range of authors. Reading some of these encourage one to try a full book by authors not previously experienced.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2014
The editor says the British are not especially good at short stories. It is not surprising he came to this conclusion from the stories he selected for this book. Only one story, ‘To Room Nineteen’, is worth reading. Review by story;
• Strange Comfort Afforded By The Profession – name dropping writer writes about himself.
• Ping – a waste of ink and paper.
• Mysterious Kor – dull, much dialog about nothing.
• A Family Man – pointless dialog between wife and her husband’s mistress.
• The Burning Baby – distasteful, a man has a baby with his daughter then kills the baby.
• The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen – a petty writer is jealous about another writer’s success.
• More Friend Than Lodger – negative stereotypes of class; a publisher, adulteress, lover.
• The Lotus – another one about writers, rude and self-righteous tenants.
• Miss Pulkinhorn – not a nice story about a busy body.
• My Enemy’s Enemy – another one about negative stereotypes of class; soldiers, officers.
• The Rain Horse – like Duel (1971 film); except it’s a horse, a man and a muddy field.
• The Fishing Boat Picture - another about negative stereotypes of class and a touch of apathy,
• To Room Nineteen – very sad, insightful story of mental illness.
• The House of the Famous Poet – too many words and no content.
• The Enigma – man disappears, police investigate, another batch of negative stereotypes.
• Memories of the Space Age - negative stereotypes of scientists, engineers.
• A Meeting in the Middle – it ends with cow parsley, the rest is not worth reading.
• In the Hours of Darkness – a mum stays overnight near her son’s college and that is it.
• A Few Selected Sentences – the sort of thing you would search for on the internet if you are bored.
• Composition – negative stereotype, of naïve English teacher.
• Weekend – a good reason not to become a middle class housewife.
• Hotel des Boobs – writer on holiday writes about a writer writing on holiday.
• Clap Hands, Here comes Charlie – more class stereotypes and heart attack.
• Psychopolis – more negative stereotypes, Americans, immigrants, again the writer knows best!
• Flesh and Mirror – another, this one is a poor little rich girl abroad, very boring self-analysis.
• Let me Count the Times – lots of rising action and climax, realistic falling action, upbeat resolution.
• My Wife is a White Russian – another… rich man, gold digging wife.
• The Prophet’s Hair – another… religion and violence.
• One of a Kind – another one about a writer.
• Philomela – A distasteful Greek myth, no reason to write another version and print it.
• Bedbugs – another English teacher, petty, pathetic, naïve, negative stereotype.
• Seraglio – another negative stereotype; tourists, dysfunctional relationship.
• A Family Supper – A poisonous fish, but the story has no sting in its tail despite being ready for it.
• Structural Anthropology – full of self-righteous judgmental nonsense.
A waste of money and put me off getting the other short stories in the Penguin series.
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on 20 August 2014
The writers are all very famous, so I bought them but was disappointed, because I didn't find them very interesting
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on 22 December 2014
Good stories but I found the type face rather too small for comfortable reading.
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