Short Stories – Reviews and Recommendations

Recently I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy of Cecelia Ahern’s latest book, ROAR. It’s a book of 30 short stories, with more than a dash of magical realism, and I pretty much gobbled the stories up one after the other.

I posted about it on Instagram and was asked about other short story collections that I would recommend. So here they are!

I find short stories are perfect for those times when life is a bit chaotic and I can’t get my head into a novel. Personally, I think they must be SO much harder to write – conveying a whole story and believable characters in only a few pages is no easy feat.

First up, a review of ROAR by Cecelia Ahern

I admit first of all that this is the only book I have read by the phenomenally successful Cecelia Ahern; I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced reader’s copy. But I loved the premise…thirty stories about different women that achieve a collective roar.

I found the stories to be insightful, wise and very readable. There is more than a dash of magical realism here, which mean these stories read more like fables. And there is so much here we can all recognise from our lives.

My favourites were probably ‘The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared’, a sly spin on how menopausal women are viewed and ‘The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin’ which will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to juggle motherhood and work.

I should add here that this book arrived in my life at a perfect time; I was at a low ebb, couldn’t focus and this book was like a tonic. So it matched well with my drink…a real pick me up in book form.

Anton Chekhov, About Love and Other Stories

Chekhov is perhaps better known for his plays, but if you haven’t yet read his short stories you are in for a treat. Chekhov was Russian and died in 1904 at the age of 44, which is incredible when you think of the body of work he left behind, and the fact that he was also a doctor!

Raymond Carver called Anton Chekhov “the greatest short story writer who has ever lived.” This is a collection I come back to again and again, always in awe at Chekhov’s ability to reveal life without sentiment, without judgement.

Alice Munro, Runaway

Munro is a Canadian writer whose work consists mainly of short stories. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013 and I think Runaway is probably my favourite of her books. Her short stories feel more like novels; she moves back and forth in time, revealing but never explaining the details of her characters’ lives.

In Runaway three of the short stories have the same character, but they are linked loosely. Munro’s tone is dry and unsentimental and yet she manages to convey so much emotion. As Alan Hollinghurst says, ‘Munro has a genius for evoking the particular and peculiar atmosphere of relationships, their unspoken pressures and expectations

Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Fair warning, these are not stories to be read when you need a bit of a comfort read. I first came across Carver’s short stories a few years back and I was blown away by the way he could convey so much with so few words. He was an American writer who helped to revitalise the short story which, during the 1980s, was seen as a dying form. Like Chekhov and Munro, there is no sentimentality in these stories, which are concerned in the main with failing relationships and life going awry.

Edna O’Brien, The Love Object

Edna O’Brien is an Irish author, perhaps better known for her novel Country Girls which was banned in Ireland on its release due to its depiction of female sexuality (now SURELY that makes you want to run out and buy a copy, right?!). But this is a sublime collection of her short stories and she writes brilliantly about women. Mothers, girls, nuns, daughters, sisters – and she presents them with compassion and humour.

James Joyce, Dubliners

And onto another slightly famous Irish writer…

These 15 short stories present a naturalistic portrayal of life in Dublin in the early twentieth century – and they are eminently readable (anyone who has struggled with Ulysses will know where I’m coming from). The Dead, the final story in the collection, is his best known, and I think it has perhaps the most perfect final paragraph ever. These are the (often quoted) final lines:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’

What do you think? What are your favourite short story collections? I’d love to hear from you!

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