Short stories have frequently had a bad press for being things written by authors who are just too lazy to write a full novel but is this really the case? Alice Munro, even has a character in her short story Fiction argue;
“A collection of short stories, not a novel. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book´s authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of Literature rather than safely settled inside”.
This made me laugh because Alice Munro is a much-lauded writer of short fiction and she has been called the new Chekov and the Queen of the short story and she won the Booker prize in 2009
Personally I have not really been a massive short story fan, look at my book cases and you will find very few, however this year I have had a bit of an epiphany largely due to my ipod and the great short story podcasts you can download on the New Yorker and Guardian pages.
Earlier this year I commented on the fantastic podcast of the short story The Dolls House by Katherine Mansfield and this started my mission to download lots of short stories and to listen to as many as possible on my run. I have listened to short stories by Junot Diaz, Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, Roddy Doyle and Kazuo Ishiguro, all read by well-known writers. Recently I heard an enjoyable Alice Monro short story Axis and found this book hanging around at work so decided to read it as she won the booker in 2009 (that seemed to pass me by somehow) so I decided to read this.
The title refers to the words of the 19th century mathematician, Sophie Kovalevsky, but it is a bit of a misnomer, there is not too much happiness in this book in fact a colleague described it as ” a bit depressing”. I think this book is best enjoyed reading a short story once a week rather than bombarding yourself in one go and feeling a bit overwhelmed. The stories don’t have the happiest of themes, a woman whose children have been murdered, another one dying of cancer, child killers, etc, etc., however they are largely interesting and a good read. There are interesting observations about reading which struck a chord, for example in the story Free Radicals; “She hated to hear the word “escape” used about fiction. She might have argued, not just playfully that it was real life that was the escape”. These stories certainly make you think and the endings are often left open enough to leave you puzzling over how to interpret them.