My stately progress through The Persephone Book of Short Stories continues, and with a degree of lasting short-story-reading pleasure that I can't recall experiencing for a very long time.
Reflecting on why that may be, it occurred to me that anthologies like this, ones that showcase so many different authors, are not my usual fare. Most volumes I pick up are by a single author, and for all their capabilities and skill with the craft. that remains a solo voice; this collection is like meeting a lovely group of people, in this case women, all singing in harmony, but in their different parts and I am loving it.
Two contrasting endpapers, two bookmarks to match, stories ranging from 1909 to 1986 and the suggestion from Nicola Beauman that readers do a compare and contrast with the first and the last. Once I had done that, and I think as I mentioned before, I decided that an interesting way to read this collection would be to alternate...one from the front, one from the back until I met myself in the middle and that gap of seventy-seven years had closed. That was the plan though I didn't know if it would work, but to my surprise very satisfying it is proving to be.
I ration strictly and only allow myself a single story at each sitting because I am enjoying these so much I want the book to last ... a sitting can be while the bath is running..or even just perched somewhere and in the midst of something else, when I suddenly get the urge to read one.
I wonder if any of you have similar methods for short story reading??
With any collection I like to make a note of the date I have read each story alongside the title too, it gives some perspective to the timespan that I have spent with the book, and when I look back in the future reminds me of the time of year... what was happening...was I in a gravity recliner sipping cool drinks or wrapped up warm.
Each story in the Persephone book has a delicious kernel of quiet truth at its centre, as well as a good crunchy bite at the end, and I would be hard pushed to choose a favourite to date, but along the way I am meeting some authors whose voices resonate and I will seek out more short stories by them for sure...to be honest, forget the 100th book, I'd love Persephone to publish a volume like this every year. There can be no shortage of stories and the collective approach makes for fascinating contrasts whilst, for all the years that pass, the concerns and themes surrounding the constraints and pleasures of women's lives seem timeless and unchanging.
From the back end of the book I have loved the humour of Sylvia Townsend Warner's 1948 story, A View of Exmoor. It is hilarious and eccentric, and of such moments are short stories made... a speculative back story must be invented by the Finch family on their way home from a family wedding...
'Gazing at the view, Mrs Finch said that looking at Exmoor always reminded her of Aunt Harriet's inexplicable boots....the man was pale and sulky and the woman was rating him and crying her eyes out, but the most remarkable thing of all...was that the woman wasn't wearing a hat...and on the ground was a pair of boots'
Well a story like that has to go somewhere, but who can imagine where.
Bookhound and I saw a funny thing the other day...a man scouring the top of a farm track with a metal detector and looking everso slightly self-conscious as he did so; a moment that needed a back story if ever there was one in my opinion because it is not a common occurence in these parts.
'Oh that's interesting,' said Bookhound, 'because I saw a woman parked up there the other day frantically combing the grass on hands and knees and I wondered what she was doing.'
By the time we had driven the six miles into town I had of course invented the unimaginative obvious, a huge row and a priceless ring tossed out of a car window in a fit of temper. Thus do I discover it's not that easy to make an interesting story out of an ordinary moment, but Sylvia Townsend Warner has no such trouble....and doubtless would have done something far more interesting with my metal detector moment.
Also from the back end of the book so one of the more recent stories (as in 1967), Elizabeth Spencer's A Bad Cold might now be called Man Flu as the insecure and insanely jealous husband wilts (temp probably 37.2 or so) whilst the multi-tasking wife keeps the ship afloat, running a home and holding down a job as a writer.
Nearer the front,1933 and a wonderful introduction to the perceptive and gentle yet probing writing of Dorothy Whipple as she explores all the pretentions of a gauche, lonely and unsophisticated girl going on a blind date in A Lovely Time. I defy any reader not to feel the unbearable sadness of Alice's situation.
Finally, for this post, because I feel sure I will write more about these when I have finished the book, my introduction to Shirley Jackson's story The Lottery. Published in 1948 amidst huge controversy I was ... *forgive the vernacular* ...as gob-smacked as those early readers. I won't reveal, but suspect I experienced every single same emotion that they did, a rising sense of foreboding that surely this wasn't what this story was really about, and the complete shock, incredulity and revulsion when I realised it was.
I doubt I have read a more powerful and shock-inducing short story, and its inclusion in this collection, buried deep in amongst the rest, is an editorial master stroke.
I suppose I should of course be urging you to read The Lottery in the context of the whole collection if it is a story you don't know, but this isn't about selling books, so you can read it here if you want to... brace yourself if you decide to read it, and then please do come back and share your immediate reactions.