Short stories really hit the big time in Britain in the Victorian and modernist period – at exactly the same time that the professional woman writer became a force to be reckoned with. The two have been wed ever since in a spectacularly successful union. The BBC short story award had an all-woman shortlist this year, as it did the year before. And, as usual, the 4th Estate list showcases some of the very best female short story writers around.
HILARY MANTEL – LEARNING TO TALK
You know – or should know – all about Hilary Mantel’s latest short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, but what about Learning to Talk? Published a decade ago, this is another collection of exquisite stories from Britain’s favourite writer. A companion piece to Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up The Ghost, these stories are loosely autobiographical, inviting the reader to observe the transforming moments of a particularly haunted childhood. The perfect antidote to those that have already devoured this year’s offerings from Mantel.
KSENIYA MELNIK – SNOW IN MAY
As the days get shorter, so too must the stories and Kseniya Melnik’s frostily themed, achingly beautiful collection are just what you need. Shortlisted for the prestigious Dylan Thomas prize, Snow in May invites us deep into Magadan, an isolated fishing and mining town in the northern reaches of Russia; into the unvisited lives of its inhabitants and immigrants; into the muted, suppressed tragedies, the unexpected ecstasies of their everyday existence.
PENELOPE FITZGERALD – THE MEANS OF ESCAPE
One of the stories in The Means of Escape shows us a young boy in 17th century England, who loses a precious keepsake only to find it frozen in a puddle of ice. Readers of the collection will know how he feels – as each of these droll, tender stories, collected after Fitzgerald’s death, is a miniature masterpiece, previously forgotten, now perfectly displayed. The collection will be reissued next year to match our beautiful new editions of her novels. Originally published in anthologies and newspapers, united they easily explain why Fitzgerald was regarded so highly on the English literary scene, being shortlisted for the Booker more than any other writer apart from Iris Murdoch.
NICOLA BARKER – THE THREE BUTTON TRICK: Selected stories
A pregnant shoplifter unzips her stomach, nestling stolen goods alongside her irritated foetus. A circus contortionist’s tortoise is crushed to death. An erection lasts 24 hours. A woman swaps her boyfriend for a tapeworm. Plastic surgery fails to correct a teenage girl’s grotesque nose. The Three Button Trick collects the very best of Nicola Barker’s unsettling, inimitable short stories. ‘There’s nothing quite like this happening in fiction at the moment’, commented Ali Smith. Don’t miss it.
MOLLY ANTOPOL – THE UNAMERICANS
Longlisted for the National Book Award, The Unamericans counts as one of the most significant announcements of new literary talent this year. In these nine precisely-wrought tales, Molly Antopol writes with the sophistication of an author twice her age, belying the fact that she was selected as one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35’ in 2013. Her stories feature a broad cast of Jewish characters: men and women, young and old, emigrants from Kiev, Belarus, Prague, Moscow and Boston living in New York, California, Maine, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The wisdom and understanding she demonstrates in inhabiting this disparate group is astonishing; the clicking clockwork of her sentence structure is staggering. Moving and bleakly amusing, this collection forms the perfect introduction to a brilliant young talent.
YIYUN LI – A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS
A vision into the flawed, grim underbelly of China is something Western readers are not often afforded, but is exactly what Yiyun Li offers in her award-winning collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Li’s debut follows the tales of various heroes and heroines, from Mr Su – who has to keep his brain damaged daughter a secret from the authorities – to Granny Lin, a garment factory worker forcibly made redundant. The stories in the collection transcend geographical boundaries as much as Li does herself, exploring and illustrating the complexities of the human heart from China to America. A beautifully written collection of short stories, imaginatively and skilfully told with mesmerizing poignancy. ‘Yiyun has the talent, the vision and the respect for life’s insoluble mysteries to be a truly fine writer.’ Michel Faber, Guardian.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE – THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK
Recently featured in the Guardian’s ‘10 best short story collections‘, The Thing Around Your Neck, a collection of twelve short stories following the lives of Nigerian born men and women, looks at the diverse relationships between parents and their children; men and women, and Nigeria and the West. Each of these stories is affecting, insightful and powerful, boldly making light of the inner turmoil suffered when ones identity is shaken, moved, compromised. Take Nkem’s story for example. She is moved from Nigeria to America by her husband who can finally afford to install her in a suburb in Philadelphia. Nkem is lonely, missing her husband and the life she once knew. Through her isolation her housemaid becomes a friend, confirms that her husband has moved his new mistress into her home. ‘A stranger is in her home. And it hardly feels right, referring to the house in Lagos, as home. This is home.’ Spoiler alert: she moves back.
Words by Lettice Franklin, Tom Killingbeck, Emmanuella Kwenortey and Candice Carty-Williams
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