Stories: “The Oxford Book of English Short Stories” edited by A.S. Byatt

The January book for me and Dad’s 2008 reading challenge. We picked this b/c Dad had (recently) so enjoyed V.S. Pritchett’s Oxford short story collection.
However, the selection of stories in this book felt very bizarre to both of us. Byatt’s particular idea of “what makes an English short story” was a very specific type and some of the things she claimed were “very particularly Britishly funny” in her introduction were things we either found a) not funny or b) not very British feeling (to us, both non Brits, of course).
So while there were some stories we really loved (some we both loved), there were a lot of stories that we didn’t like / I wouldn’t recommend the collection as a whole.
There were a lot of stories that were supposed to be (per her intro) scary = but weren’t. Or stories that would be scary if they were written differently, but a LOT of stories in this book were very distant / the heavy presence of a “storyteller” telling the story (a very passive voice relating the action) on top of the writer made what was happening in the story seem very far away and hard to connect with. There were a lot of stories I call “afterschool specials” = you know, “message” or “lesson” stories.
And there were a lot of stories that seemed very atypical of their authors. In other words, my dad said, “if the story in this book were the first A.E. Coppard story I read, I would never have been interested in reading him again.” Same goes for Dickens, Hardy, D.H. Lawrence and T.H. White. All great writers, all represented here by bad stories.
While we had different faves, these are eight we both liked.
Dad’s faves were: “”Wireless” by Rudyard Kipling, “”At Hiruharama” by Penelope Fitzgerald, and “An Englishman’s Home” by Evelyn Waugh.
Mine were: “The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown” by G.K. Chesteron, “Solid Objects” by Virginia Woolf, “A Widow’s Quilt” by Silvia Townsend Warner (and not because of the quilting), “A Dream of Winter” by Rosamond Lehmann, and “Telephone” by John Fuller.
We’d both recommend those (and some others), but not this particular collection. And we both thought “The Destructors” by Graham Greene was a really good story but had an incredibly devastating (and not funny at all) ending.
Given our experience with this collection, and his previous love for the Pritchett, we’ve added that one to our challenge for our last set of stories (even though he’s read it already).

Comments are closed.