Friday, 13 May 2011

Top 5... Short Stories

For me, short stories are a fine art - when done well, they are able to take the reader on a journey, without the luxury of a few hundred pages to set the scene and develop character.  Below are five of my favourites; the titles in brackets refer to the author anthologies in which they can be found.

5. The New Daughter by John Connolly (Nocturnes)
A single father and his two children move to a house on the edge of a vast field, home to a mysterious mound.  As time passes, the man begins to notice peculiarities in his daughter's behaviour.  She spends more and more time by the mound behind their house, and odd-looking straw dolls keep appearing, as if from the ground...  A chilling fairy tale that is made all the more effective by its brevity.

4. A Lamia in the Cevennes by A.S. Byatt (Elementals)
Magical realism at its best here, as a troubled Brit awakes one morning in his sun-drenched villa in the Cevennes to find a mysterious, serpentine woman living in his swimming pool.  Bizarre stuff, beguilingly written.

3. House of Flowers by Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's)
Surreal and beautifully imagined, Capote's writing has never been better than it has here.  House of Flowers follows the trials and tribulations of Ottilie, a beautiful young prostitute in the West Indies. 

2. The Problem of Susan by Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)
Something that has long bothered fans of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia is the way in which Susan, the eldest Pevensie sister, is dismissed at the end of The Last Battle as too much of a grown-up to return to the magical land.  Gaiman's tale catches up with Susan years later in real life, by which time her memories of Narnia have become distorted symbols of her adolescent anguish and sexuality.  A wonderfully dark look back at a masterpiece of childrens' literature.

1. Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier (Not After Midnight)
The story will be familiar to many fans of the film adaptation.  A grieving couple travel to Venice following the death of their child.  They are approached in their hotel by an elderly, scatty woman who claims that the spirit of their daughter is still with them.  Shortly after, the husband begins to see a small hooded figure running through the side streets and back alleys of the city.  Could their daughter have truly come back to them?  For newcomers to this tale, the climax will truly shock.  If you're familiar with the ending, then I recommend you try Ian McEwan's novella The Comfort of Strangers, in which another couple find themselves in trouble in Venice.

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