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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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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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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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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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on 17 October 2014 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."
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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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on 24 May 2009
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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on 8 January 2016
My grandson (aged 26) named these two books for me to give him for Christmas and he was delighted with them.

Packaging and delivery was very good as well so thank you.
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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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on 4 October 2011
I bought this book to read the short story written by Angela Carter called The Flesh and the Mirror. In fact it is one of her early short stories from when she used to live in Japan. It is in no way as good as The Company of Wolves or The Bloody Chamber. I am going to enjoy reading the Edna O'Brien story - In the Hours of Darkness. There are also stories by Doris Lessing and Muriel Spark as well as Fay Weldon. A short story is often a boon to busy mothers who have to snatch time to read and who often read is short bursts. This is what I found when my son was young. Busy people also enjoy short stories as you may be able to complete one in the course of a Tube journey or train ride home. Other stories are by Malcolm Lowry, Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas , Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis and Ted Hughes to name but a few. Quality I hear you say! A short story anthology is a book you can dip in and out of and you do not have to read it in the order it is presented to you. Enjoy!
Marlene Packwood
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