Nicholas Royle has read far and wide to put together this collection, his ninth as editor.
The book contains 20 stories. Many appealed to me but some, whilst well written, did not really grab my attention. To some extent, I think this may have been a distinct sense of similarity I felt I could detect in the stories. Obviously, this is nothing to do with the writers and more to do with the choices made by Nicholas Royle as editor.
Whilst I won’t give a review of each story, for the sake of brevity, I’ll mention a few.
The Husband and the Wife Go to the Seaside by Melissa Wan – The married couple in this story are just referred to as ‘the husband’ and ‘the wife’ throughout. The couple go on a trip in an attempt to rekindle their marriage. The story touches on male dominance, sex and immigration.
Cuts by Stephen Sharp – This is as searing story told as a stream of consciousness which looks at psychosis. It is a relentless, driving, multi-faceted, scary and exhausting tale. For me, it is the best story in the entire book.
The Heights of Sleep by Sam Thompson – This is another excellent story about books, writing and influences in which one of the messages is ‘don’t meet your heroes’. It contained a great quote:
“In a review, there are so many ways to be lazy, dishonest, timid, ignorant, bullying, spurious, inexact, ungenerous or unjust, and so few ways to be true.”
I suspect, as a reviewer, I may be guilty of many, if not all, of the above.
Beyond Dead by Nigel Humphreys – After some thought and a quick Google search, I determined that this was a story of Robespierre in the afterlife. This is a good, well-written story.
Reality by John Lanchester – A first-person inner monologue of Iona, a reality TV contestant. Appearances for Iona is all, she is constantly manoeuvring and considering how her looks, words and actions will be perceived to others. This story made me wonder if reality TV is ‘unreal’ or just a magnified reflection of how we all act on a day to day basis in our real lives, albeit for a smaller audience.
On Day 21 by Ruby Cowling – The story of a young mother struggling with three children. She is distracted by the certainty and control she can exert over technology in her life where she feels she has little control over much else.
Cluster by Naomi Booth and Optics by Ren Watson – Both stories also feature struggling mothers. Whilst the stories are well written, read one after another they did start to feel a bit ‘samey’.
Sitcom by Kieran Delaney – An unusual story about a plot for sitcoms in which a prisoner reaches a tremendous age behind bars. It’s an interesting idea but I couldn’t help being pedantic and thinking ‘it’s not really a sitcom though’.
Based on my experience, I think this book may best be enjoyed by dipping in and out and reading one or two stories at a time. Taken together, I started to see patterns and similarities in the writing which were distracting and detracted from the enjoyment of some of the stories, which did not deserve to be dismissed or viewed negatively.
Richard Bryant 3/4
Best British Short Stories 2019 edited by Nicholas Royle
Salt 9781784631857 pbk Jul 2019