Tuesday 10 July 2012

SHORT STORY SUMMER - 'Night in Paris' - Patrice Chaplin

With all the stories I post about in the next couple of months, I will always attempt to find a link to them online, and indeed I have found one to Night in Paris by Patrice Chaplin right here. My copy of this story came from my rather battered second hand copy of The Minerva Book of Short Stories Vol. 1 (Minerva, 1988), if you ever feel the urge to track down it down

I first read this about 18 months ago, after finding said copy of book in the lovely second hand bookshop I was volunteering in at the time. I was going through a brief short story period (rather similar to the one I am going through now) and decided to pick a few at random. This one stuck in my memory.

I think it's the Englishness of it all - we follow young Lucy from the age of eleven in 1950, right through to her as a young woman, as she experiences first hand the family tradition of professional re-gifting - how her beloved bottle of perfume, along with several other gawdy, tacky items, make their way through the hands of several family members and friends over the years. I'm always drawn to a hideous matriarch in a story and this one is no different - the small references to Lucy's mother, her domineering ways and her own perception of the meaning of Christmas (never loose face, manners are everything, must give present, no matter how bloody awful it is) - is just so well written.

This isn't the most literary of stories, but I loved it. It just says so much about families and what a particular occasion means to different people. And it was such an accessible read.

Just a quick note on the character of Lucy - it's refreshing to read a character like this in short story form - I guess there's not a huge amount of room for character development here - we start off with a good person and end up with a good person who has just a little more understanding of other people than she did at the start - no major lessons learnt or anguish or tearing out of hair. I love her simplicity and uncomplicatedness (yes, I just invented a new word).

So if you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think...

Friday 6 July 2012

SHORT STORY SUMMER - Raymond Carver #1 - 'Cathedral' ('Where I'm Calling From' - The Harvill Press, 1995)

I promised you a Short Story Summer post in July and here it is (a few days late, mind, but here, and that is the most important thing). I thought a good starting point to begin my short story education was with the apparent undisputed master of the form, Raymond Carver.

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected StoriesI've had a copy of his collection Where I'm Calling From, sitting on my book shelf gathering dust for a while now. I intended to be all literary and high-brow when I first purchased it. By reading it, obvs. But, as you may have gathered from my reviews, I don't do literary and high brow too often. I'd feel like a bit of a fraud if I waffled on about,... well, you see I don't even know where to start with all the high brow stuff and I'd probably just bore you all senseless.

So, I'm going to do this - every so often over the next couple months I'm going to read one of his stories and just jot down a little bit about it and who I think might enjoy it.  Yes, a sort of - SHOCKER - review. Although being a short story, these will more than likely be very short reviews. It comes with the territory.

And you must bear with me on this one, because I'm not used to reviewing short stories and I'll probably sound like a right tit and not in the least bit literary, but I can't pretend to sound like anything else...

So, first up, I decided to read a story recommended to me by Jo. And that was a recommendation in CAPS LOCK form which is how I knew it must be worth a read. I'd seen Cathedral listed in a few short story guides too, so it felt like a natural starting point for my Short Story Summer.

Well, the thing that first sprung to mind when I finished this was VOICE. Oh, and voice. And possibly voice too. Our narrator is a married man relaying his feelings, or lack of, about his wife's close friendship with a blind man. How do I write a review of this without giving anything away? Let's just say this is jaw-droppingly good and I'm still wondering how it is possible to learn so much about our narrator when he himself tells us so little in so few words. I was a bit worried that starting my Short Story Month at such a high level would be a off-putting, but this tale would be such a great read for those who wouldn't think to pick up a short story - this shows how much is capable and the skill involved in crafting such a concise tale.
And even though it's pretty light on description, I could visualise the fifty shades of brown in their home furnishings. This is bleak stuff, but the ending is just the most beautiful of revelations. Just amazing.
Hint: Cathedral fans (and there are lots), it's not just about cathedrals.

Section Where I Write Down Any Short Story Writing Tips I Have Learnt Whilst Reading This Short Story

Actually, reading this has been like a bit of a step back. I am in serious awe of the skill involved and this has scared me ridged. I'll keep you posted when I get my short story mojo back.

But, yeah, like I said before VOICE and MORE VOICE. Need to work on the voice, I think.

Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed my first short story review of sorts. See, I told you it wouldn't be high brow.