Posted by Sari
As you may or may not know I generally detest short stories. With few notable exceptions I find them boring and pointless writing excercises which may well benefit the writer but offer little to the reader. I also know that the above is not exactly a fair and balanced view. So, I have been trying to read short stories trying find some that I like. I have dutifully read one short story a night from the Picador collection, and when my sister, the Byatt scholar lent me thelatest collection of Byatt's short stories I actually sat down and read the damned thing.
Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories is actually a genre collection. The five stories are all horror stories and three have supernatural elements in them. I found three of the stories totally pointless and boring ("The Thing in the Forest", "A Stone Woman", and "The Pink Ribbon"), and two which were readable. "Body Art", a story about an encounter between eminent Irish Gynaecologist, and a down-and-out art student who is into installations and body-piercing is vintage Byatt in that it takes the title and spins it into many different directions. Reading it, you can actually feel how words, descriptions, events make connections in your brain. If I was still doing a lit-crit class this would be a great work to analyse, but it isn't interesting enough to do pick apart on my free time, and I suspect it really is one of those stories that would greatly benefit from being picked a part.
The other readable short story in the collection is "Raw Material" which is a sort of a story about a creative writing -teacher. His class writes and demands melodrama, stories about abuse and rape and violence whereas the teacher finds that the most satisfying excercises are those of an old lady writing about how household chores were done in the olden days. As it is a story about writing it can't escape being on some leve a metafiction, and in that light its ending is really interesting.
So, two out of five, not bad. Certainly better than the Picador collection which at the moment scores one out of fifteen.
I have also been reading Naomi Kretzers fantasy duology Fires of the Faithfull and Turning the Storm. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Firstly just because it turned one of the usual fantasy tropes around. In Kretzer's world everybody can do magic, and those who do not are suspected of heresy. And the heresy is Christianity with little tweaking here and there. It also has a nice understated lesbian romance, interesting characters and evil is not something epic, but something very human, and can be seen both sides of the conflict. I was not too fond of the first person narrative, and the plot itself flounders a bit here so that sometimes there is a feeling of deus ex machina plotting. But overall, quite nice.