The Best British Short Stories 2014

This collection, edited by Nicholas Royle, was the final book I read in December. I thought that reading the ‘best’ short stories of 2014 would be a fitting end to the year. I read a lot of short stories last year and I keep going back to them because I like the brevity of the better ones; the ability to convey a character or a mood so intensely appeals to me. Novels have to be more drawn out (not that I don’t still love them!). As with all collections like these, there were stories in here I didn’t like. But I want to talk about some of my favourites (and I don’t want to post any spoilers):

‘Number Three’ by Anna Metcalfe follows Miss Coral, who has been put in charge of the Real English teacher programme in her Chinese school. The story contrasts the way westerners see the world with how the rest of the world live it. A Real English (American) teacher arrives who demands the same amount of money his friends, working in richer schools, get. I loved this story.

‘Ashton and Elaine’ by the poet David Constantine was very interesting. A mute little boy is found in a market and a family take him in. I wanted to know where Ashton had come from; this kept me reading. But his backstory becomes less important and the way characters start to connect to him without him saying a lot becomes more important. It’s a very good story and the prose is wonderful.

‘Guests’ by Joanne Rush was incredibly unnerving, in a good way. The protagonist’s husband is sent to Bosnia (with his work), and the protagonist doesn’t do a lot to get herself out of the house. After a depressing Christmas, she starts seeing the ghosts of people who died in the Bosnian War. I’d love to read more from Rush because this story really affected me. Here, the protagonist starts to lose her sense of reality in a wonderfully written way.

‘Tides’ by Elizabeth Baines is a very short story in which the narrator initially focuses on one image, herself and a lover by the sea, which keeps coming back to her. She wonders what this memory would mean in a gothic story, or in a feminist fairy tale. It’s maybe not for everyone but I love stories that get a little meta, that talk about story-telling.

‘What’s Going On Outside?’ by Stuart Evers is a story where not a lot happens, but the beauty is in the detail. Karel loves his oranges, and I could almost smell them through the writing. The story details one evening with Karel and Eugene, and another evening much later on. There isn’t much plot but the character development is interesting. Evers has a great writing style.

Collections of short stories are a great way of introducing readers to some great writers, as well as being a way to get people more familiar with the form. My initial thought was ‘why British?’ but I suppose they need to start somewhere. I would like to read more books published by Salt, who publish the wonderful Alison Moore. I like their style.

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