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Customer reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars

VINE VOICEon 29 December 2013
The five 2013 winners of an annual BBC short story competition are in this book. Mariella Frostrup was the chairman of the judging panel and has written an introduction, reminding us all of the value of a good short story.
Barmouth - one family's history told through their annual caravan holidays. First person narrative works well and communicates the sadness and hope. This is a big story told conservatively using clever evocative hints, with time passing almost unnoticed. There is something here for everyone to recognise.
We are watching something terrible happening - this one lost me completely. It was very ethereal and seemed to be trying to put a relationship breakdown into a post apocalyptic setting.
Mrs Fox - oddly there is a Kafka feel to this story. It is interesting to read the metamorphosis of the character but I found it difficult to relate to or enjoy (actually the same reaction I had when I read Kafka).
Prepositions - this Lionel Shriver story is the reason I bought this book, the concept of which fascinates me, and I was not disappointed. It is a letter from a New York widow whose husband died on 9/11 to a widow whose husband died in 9/11 (one letter but massive difference) talking about the effect this prepositions had on their grief process.
Notes from the house spirits - self explanatory title as the story is narrated by some sort of ghostly being attached to a house. Overtime we hear about the various people moving in and out along with changes to the structure of the home. I enjoyed this one.
Overall, I really enjoyed 3, one I was undecided about and one I didn't enjoy at all - not bad!
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on 13 October 2013
Lovely short read - perfect for a short time available to read.Fantastic stories by some great writers. Especially liked Barmouth - a very evocative story linking growing up and a journey.
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on 30 October 2013
Great short story book nice to dip in to.
Excellent writing especially the Kafka style one! Good to support such great talent .
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on 5 May 2014
The Lionel Shriver story is superb. The others are not to my taste being fantasy although admittedly very well written. .
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on 22 March 2014
My favourite story from this collection was 'Prepositions' - a very thought provoking tale about the difference between dying on 9/11 or dying in 9/11. It really feels like it could be to someone's true story. I also enjoyed Mrs Fox although I found the ending a bit vague.
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on 2 January 2014
I bought this after hearing on Radio 4 some of the short story about the lady who transfigures into a fox. I missed the ending and so am pleased with the other stories as well. A really good read.
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on 14 December 2014
A sort of intellectual collection.
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on 25 October 2014
This was a book club choice and not the sort I'd normally read. I'd attended a series of lectures in Ireland from Claire Keegan, the Irish writer, who was most impressive. But in spite of her short story recommendations, I felt I struggled a bit. So it was with some concern that I approached this volume. But the reality was better.

i) "Barmouth" is quite intriguing. In my youth I endured family holidays, with similar journeys to those described, including "sick places", etc., and rain on arrival. And I was amused how in retrospect (like school days) those holidays are described as "lovely", decades later. It was interesting, too, how the lead character had failed to progress in life: no "happy ever after". But I got a bit confused about her daughter's age.

ii) "We are Watching Something Terrible Happening". This is really poignant, drawing parallels between meteors and bombings (and possibly by implication a failed marriage). I was not surprised to read that the author is a Professor of Poetry.

iii) Mrs Fox. This is also poetic, and a work of fantasy, but none the worse for that.

It contains two strangely used words (corona and calluna) and at least two misspellings (possibly deliberate) and a word not in the Oxford English dictionary ("thirled").

iv) "Prepositions". Again, I need to use the word "poignant". And certainly thought provoking.

v) "Notes from the House Spirits". This is beautifully written, if a bit strange. It took me a bit of time to work it out. But it was an interesting theme.

In summary I was pleased I read these stories. The short stories were more enjoyable than a platitudinous detective thriller. Sometimes I felt that I might be missing a point or losing out on some hidden message, but I think I did OK!
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on 3 October 2015
In the introduction the reader is told that we're currently enjoying a golden age for short story writing. But having read several of these BBC short story competition award compendiums I beg to differ. It's not that the stories are bad in this the 2013 collection, it's just that they're not really stories.

The first is written in that staccato impressionistic style that's common, maybe even typical in contemporary short story writing. The problem with this is that you're only getting what amounts to mere snapshots rather than a narrative. And snapshots from life of an average dysfunctional British family just aren't that interesting, no matter the quality of the mundane detail.

The second is science fiction. Or is it? It's so elliptical in its telling that, again, it's as if the style is designed to obscure the fact that there wasn't much of a story there. What was it about? A failing marriage? Two planets colliding? Alien invasion? It was hard to know or care.

I gave up on the third. Again, I felt somehow alienated by being asked to fumble around in the dark with so little to hold on to.

Then there was the Lionel Shriver story concerning 9/11, which at least didn't demand the reader become some kind of existential detective in search of meaning in the text. It, at least, was obviously about something. However, the epistolary form felt wrong for what the author was trying to express. I struggle to believe that one middle class American would ever write such a letter expressing such bitter and resentful sentiments to another middle class American - it's so impolite it's positively unamerican. And when the writer of said letter says that she will 'sorrow that night as twin spotlights shoot, bend and evanesce in to the sky' I can only think that the writer is an author of fiction writing to another author about something that isn't real.

The final story suffers from similar mannerisms to the first in the collection.

So, across five stories, there's just wasn't that much to get the teeth in to. They're all evidently good, just not that stimulating or enjoyable. I can't help but feel that's more to do with the culture of modern short story writing as much as anything else.
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on 28 January 2015
Good quality
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