I promised there’d be something a bit different about the second instalment of October’s paperbacks and I suspect many of you will scarper when I reveal what it is: this one’s all about short stories. Before you disappear over the horizon, please know that I was like you once but I’ve discovered a whole new world of reading out there since becoming a short story convert. Perhaps I can persuade you to give it a try, starting with a title which became one of my books of 2019.
Etgar Keret’s Fly Already is a collection of twenty punchy, inventive stories, some no longer than a page or two. A few of Keret’s pieces are disconcerting – more than a little wacky – others are pure comedy, often using humour to make a point, but all are memorable. The complications of humanity are sweetly satirised and even the rich, who come in for some thoroughly justified lampooning, are treated with a sympathetic understanding. It’s a hugely enjoyable collection, full of surprises. I’d not heard of Keret before although I gather he’s acquired an international reputation. Richly deserved, if Fly Already is anything to go by.
Deborah Eisenberg’s wonderfully titled Your Duck is My Duck very nearly made it on to my books of the year list, too, but things were getting a little out of hand. Her collection comprises six stories my favourite of which sees a group of aged movie actors affronted by the biography of a renowned director written by his grandson, purportedly drawing on his childhood memories, but are their own as reliable as they’d like to think? Each of Eisenberg’s stories was a delight for me, stuffed full with acerbic observation and lengthy enough to please fans of longer fiction who might want to put a toe into the short story water.
I’ve a copy of Zadie Smith’s Grand Union but haven’t got around to reading it yet thanks to some rather discouraging reviews when it was first published last year. Smith’s stories take us from the last day of an Antiguan immigrant’s life in 1959 to a meditation on the nature of desire to a policeman in disgrace, apparently. ‘Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us’ say the publishers.
The next collection is by an author I really should have got around to reading given how many people whose opinion I trust rate her so highly. Sarah Hall’s Sudden Traveller comprises seven stories whose settings range from Turkey to Cumbria. ’Radical, charged with a transformative creative power, each of these stories opens channels in the human mind and spirit, as Sarah Hall once more invites the reader to stand at the very edge of our possible selves’ say the publishers rather grandly. Jon McGregor has sung her previous work’s praises as has David Mitchell and Jessie Burton. I think it’s about time I read some of her writing.
My last choice is an anthology. Being Various: New Irish Short Stories was put together by guest editor Lucy Caldwell. It’s the sixth volume in a series from Faber, apparently – I’ve clearly got a lot of catching up to do. Following In the footsteps of Kevin Barry, Deirdre Madden and Joseph O’Connor, Caldwell has assembled a stellar list of contributors which includes Eimear McBride, Lisa McInerney, Stuart Neville, Sally Rooney, Kit de Waal and Belinda McKeon. I’m sure there will be more than a few gems with people of that calibre involved.
That’s it for October’s paperbacks. As ever, a click on a link will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with October’s new fiction it’s here, the first batch of paperbacks is here. If you’re a short-story sceptic who’s stuck with me to the end – thank you for indulging me. Normal service will be resumed in November’s previews.