Best British Short Stories 2014

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Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
(My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)

SALT PUBLISHING
(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)

Featuring stories by: Featuring: Elizabeth Baines, David Constantine, Ailsa Cox, Claire Dean, Stuart Evers, Jonathan Gibbs, Jay Griffiths, David Grubb, M John Harrison, Vicki Jarrett, Richard Knight, Philip Langeskov, Siân Melangell Dafydd, Anna Metcalfe, Louise Palfreyman, Christopher Priest, Joanne Rush, Mick Scully, Joanna Walsh and Adam Wilmington.

I hope to gestalt real-time review this book over the next few months in the comment stream below…

28 thoughts on “Best British Short Stories 2014

  1. The Faber Book of Adultery

    JONATHAN GIBBS

    “When it came free, almost with a pop, the books alongside seemed to sigh into the space it left, their pages filling with air.”

    And something comes or pops free at the end, too. A disappointment or a fulfilment. As it says on the tin, refab or breaf or brafe, near misses for words to describe what happens here, and at the end near the “mantel shelf”, or just the birth of a comma? And towards the next time when they may do it better. This is a highly literary, brilliantly observed, humorous view of one of the cloned middle-class dinner parties and their aftermaths. A story written by an author in real-time about what is actually happening in it. The gestalt underlying the word ‘adultery’, its derivation and enactment, and its brief brave ejaculation, now made impossible with smartphones,

  2. The Spiral Stairwell

    JAY GRIFFITHS

    ‘Does the sky ever fall in real life?’ she had asked.
    ‘ Never, my little princess, never.’

    Nothing could be more different than the previous story. Of course, though, It shares a highly literary observation, here of a man who rescues people from houses in Bristol bombed during the Blitz of that city. I nearly cried when he obsessed about a piece of paper with a certain address on it that he is given to go and help rescue its inhabitants. The fact that he needed to keep the paper safe, or felt he needed to so, so that he would not forget the address…
    Oh, yes, I forgot, both stories end with an ejaculation. But here it is a cosmic, poetically rhapsodic spurt of humanity’s miracle as a Damned Neat Aim.

  3. The Incalculable Weight of Water

    RICHARD KNIGHT

    “From: Ann
    just rang its ok hurry up want to go morisons”

    young love now past its use by date
    man fighting against nature of time on dam’s edge
    sees death in a black coat
    keeps it to himself
    back to ann without the e still waiting for him down the hill
    a hill now too steep to have climbed
    death a sudden spurt not process of slow weighty flow
    a thinking text

  4. Ladies’ Day

    VICKI JARRETT

    “, the jockeys hunched on their backs in bright colours like parasitic beetles.”

    Synchronously, today in real-time is Grand National day and a couple of days ago it was Ladies’ Day at Aintree, one that also suffered bad weather! This is a battle, not a beetle, of the sexes and of steeds, where alcohol is smuggled under their clothes (like gunslinging floppy silver bags of wine from inside boxes?) into the paddock to save buying it expensively, I guess. Also scaring the horses so they shit out weight before they bet on them. Including those with having-had-a-baby figures, allowed THEIR day while men smugly hold the forts at home. Those hunched-over jockeys finding a way through for them, a division of air as if through time shifts…but then I guess some jockeys are women, anyway, these days. Never going backwards. A stable fable won by a nose or even a short head. A last minute spirt.

  5. Getting Out Of There

    M. JOHN HARRISON

    I happen to have real-time reviewed this story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/you-should-come-with-me-m-john-harrison/#comment-11287 last December – alongside three short shorts – as shown below in newly bold print:

    ——————————————

    ALTERNATE WORLD
    A BAD DREAM
    GETTING OUT OF THERE
    I’VE LEFT YOU MY KETTLE AND SOME MONEY

    “You can’t be rulers if you have no country to rule.”

    0EAEE0C8-7F7C-46E0-ABD1-055F380DE671Braving this book in the warm of my chalet bungalow (the Soft Tread of my wife upstairs) on a cold frosty seaside morning outside (photograph taken about an hour ago.) In the second, I see a man with a tarpaulin bag with his items for self-storage or for the tarpaulin loft in Cicisbeo. The third is substantive, and with clues such as a funicular railway up to West Hill I knew it was some consuming version of Hastings (a very important place in my youth.) This work is the whole book’s eponymous apotheosis as well as its haunting themes, I guess, but who is following whom, who is being enticed to come NOW? Also, a possible woman’s drowning at the end significantly links with my already ever-concurrent review or co-voyeuring of THE DROWNING GIRL here, together with a vision of the spate of paintings on show, “They were all called ‘Woman from the Sea’, with a hashmark and a number.” Focus as a would-be religion, at an age when focus tends to fade? “…a midnight passeo“ also a midnight Pessoa?
    The short fourth allowing us to stay and dwell upon this inspiring book’s voice that lingers on.

  6. Hospital Field

    SIÂN MELANGELL DAFYDD

    “It’s where the canals merge, large maples and damp benches, and street sweepers hosing the roads down between passengers and cyclists.”

    A meticulously picked-out, exquisite vision of you and your bonsai as raison d’être, and your girl friend who eventually apotheosises your Last Balcony. A classic, that perhaps only I ‘get’. Oh, and you, too. And it’ll still be here by dint of everlasting words when you look.
    (My earlier mention above: ‘a division of air as if through time shifts’?)

  7. Roof Space

    DAVID GRUBB

    “. Filthy language.”

    Boy-man awaiting his dad to join him in the place beneath the eponymous space above, where real trains work on real tracks to conscientious timetables between real places, becoming various catharses of his broken life. Breaking sometimes those who broke him. The model to which fiction often aspires.

  8. Number Three

    ANNA METCALFE

    “…her head is filled with images of ants raining from ceiling to floor. They are flooding the room like the sand of an egg timer.”

    A story in China of a Chinese teacher of English called Miss Coral, replaced by a real Englishman to teach English in the school, and she becomes the school’s international hostess, and thus that man’s official mentor. Silkily written, her special pupil Moon (special needs girl), the crassness of that Englishman, the strictures of the school’s director, are all finely felt by the reader, including wincing at things happening as well as being charmed by them. I know this is not a spoiler, being too far fetched in more ways than one, but it is one of my special bespoke theories about a story … Moon was one of Elizabeth Bowen’s many ‘Shadowy Thirds’. The slums flattened, too. City ever quick-changing, skyscraper by skyscraper. Moon and Miss Coral interchangeable. Made it seem even more beautiful and sad.

  9. Ashton and Elaine

    DAVID CONSTANTINE

    “….the child in question, or perhaps a whole series of them, all hurt, all harmed, all distinct in how they suffered, but as the register of that, almost as the accumulating sum of it,…”

    A gestalt of something intrinsic that has only emerged incredibly in recent days in 2018, a tale of the 1963 snow and thaw (that I myself remember very well in a different part of England), here brilliantly described and felt, with a withering, wuthering wind ‘cut to the marrow’, echoing the Windrush generation of that same era, here perfectly symbolised, in hindsight and ‘out of nowhere’, by the mute black foundling Ashton, a boy who is adopted by the family of Elaine who is a girl of the same age as him, a synergy of souls, where he starts writing and (privy to the girl’s grandmother) even talking. It is her grandmother that she tapes talking about Queen Victoria. (I, too, taped my own grandmother about that.) And I can hear her talking on that tape of visiting the same market trader who first discovered Ashton, and she thanked him almost in magically retrocaused compensation for our own times of ‘flightpaths and satellites’ and callousness.

  10. The Jewel Of The Orient

    LOUISE PALFREYMAN

    “The curtains were ivory and almost completely transparent. I didn’t know why she bothered.”

    A Palfrey was a sort of horse to ride in the Middle Ages, but I see it now as Palfreud, a Cat with its eye on the Man who is its voyeur through its own see-through window curtains, a distant rider as it were. The scar between the curtains now sealed or healed, but still pointlessly see-through. The Man has moved into a claustrophobic Pennine (penine?) village. His zipped fish punished by its own fighting femininity. On a less Freudian level, this work has eminently “fuckable” ideas and prose style.

  11. What’s Going On Outside?

    STUART EVERS

    ‘What’s wrong with eating oranges?’ Karel said.
    ‘It’s the way you eat them,’ Eugene said. ‘Your father would be ashamed at the way you eat them, the way you peel them, with your long nail.’

    Oranges ARE the only fruit, after all. Peeling them like an incantatory refrain of prose living, under the skin, double agents in Russia or just ordinary local folk looking at life from the sash window. Computer and phone as modern as us. And things move on, where stoicism prevails and habits are catching, romances form, father dies, his mother’s on a screen, GoogleEarth now homing in on the smallest balcony in the world (but perhaps better than a sash window or even a screen), perhaps the last ever balcony. The last surrogate father, too. What’s going on inside? A perfect round, pithless, pitiless.

    My other review of this author where he happened to share space in an anthology with Jeanette Winterson: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/stuart-evers/

  12. Tides

    Or How Stories Do Or Don’t Get Told
    ELIZABETH BAINES

    “Or maybe — more like — there’s just no end to the story.”

    …as something said in the middle of this one.
    Light comes from the sea upon a river but equally the sea threatens the land. Like life. But which story do you tell? The best or the worst of things? Here, a woman with the pure or mixed account of a relationship and its choice of memories or unchooseable futures. I think this one tells me there is no real choice past or future as we live a gestalt of stories. And pure and mixed races between, perhaps cynically air- or tar-brushed.

  13. The Sea In Birmingham

    MICK SCULLY

    “But the three armchairs in front of the aquarium are all filled by sleeping residents. ‘It’s so peaceful watching those fish,’ Matron Judy always says. ‘Makes me want to drop off myself.’”

    I once knew a group of oldsters in a home just as soporific. This whole story is a perfect rendition of the archetypal home, believe me. And the whodunnit quality is often better expressed as who didn’t, who couldn’t, and any circumstantial evidence, whether staff or inmate as the culprit, accumulated without hope of reconciling. So many people with their minds crushed by life as well as their bodies, the staff included. Many threats and recriminations harboured. And what any of them say that they might do is not necessarily any indication of motive. But if you need a culprit, a motive comes in handy. Here the brutal death of the old incontinent sailor now an inland man with incredibly blue eyes and who sees a woman out to get him in every reflective surface. A mermaid or a siren? The story itself implies a lot of mis-angled surfaces just like a piece of modern art. The in-house artist must have done it, I guess. Or the author himself, more like. I wrote realistic extrapolations about such places when my mother once stayed in one…

  14. Hope Fades For The Hostages

    AILSA COX

    “The only thing that keeps me sane, cooped up in this vacuum, is the thought of sealing the envelope, and somehow finding a stamp and a postbox in a wasteland of snow and barbed wire.”

    Three separate but textually interweaving stories, taking place in that no man’s land of time at 3 a.m. Two about reaching somewhere, one an SF journey by terrestrial algorithm, the other about a man messing up a trip with his dying wife in a camper van, the third at home amid a home’s entropy. The gestalt is a misdirected posting towards an esCHAIRtology whence to spectate death. An Arctic fridge humming with an emotionally cold daughter your only legacy…

  15. “I cast the forgotten to the night.”
    Seems a suitable emblem for the previous story?

    I happen to already have read the next story and reviewed it here in January 2014: https://conezero.wordpress.com/280-2/#comment-450 and below is what I wrote about it in that context:

    ==============================

    Unfinished Business by CHRISTOPHER PRIEST

    “I cast the forgotten to the night.”

    Another story with a ‘maximum deniability’, a huge tankful of denial indeed. Here, Janine, a mature woman with a chequered (to say the least!) backstory, someone who has now made good in international business but suddenly stalked by her past in some striking form of static adjacency of inverse stalking by a retributive inhabitant of that past. A compelling build-up of mystery. And an unexpected ending that neatly transcends the reader’s sense of earlier disbelief at the nature of such stalking and of Janine’s success in fathoming it. Ingenious.
    =============================

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/christopher-priest/

  16. Femme Maison

    JOANNA WALSH

    “No sooner is there something to do than it requires something else to do it with.”

    A sense of the earlier tri-partite Ailsa Cox story now with its deserved gestalt. The Arctic and the Entropy of the House. The spaced out travel in the mind of a widow or estranged wife, expecting Him to return. With a capital H, I reckon it’s God. Not an ashes or dust exchange.
    Hope fades for the hostages, as inadvertent co-assonance.

    “The fridge must occasionally be defrosted. Something knocks in the icebox.”

  17. It

    ADAM WILMINGTON

    “Out of the kitchen window, she could see the camera lenses scattered amongst the privets like so many shining marbles—“

    This story is an utter gem. It may even become my favourite story of all time in its own strange way (seriously). So pleased my pursuance of this series of anthologies has led me to it. Nothing I say here can convey its intrinsic nature that causes me to feel this way about it. I might just mention Theodore Sturgeon’s story with the same title as a possible cross-reference at least where swamp material might be obliquely equivalent to the knotted multi-layers of cloth in the Wilmington. However, nothing in the Wilmington could be further from the huge sprawling thing by Stephen King!

  18. Glass, Bricks, Dust

    CLAIRE DEAN

    “For a moment, the lamppost looked like a tall thin man wearing a large black hat. When the man turned towards him, he looked like a lamppost.”

    From one potential classic to another. A derelict building on a mound left half-derelict by derelict workmen, and a boy, as boys do, or as boys did in my day, builds an inchoate model, a model of his own home town that he can see from the mound with the materials supplied by the title.
    But which came first, I ask, the lilli or the put? Or are you stuck between them, forever? The townspeople, too, between droguli and real things. And what of the birds in the sky? (My thoughts derived from this story, not necessarily the story’s own thoughts per se.)

    “There were an impossible number of birds gathered on top of the lamppost watching him.”

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/claire-dean/

  19. Guests

    JOANNE RUSH

    “On these walks I allowed myself to picture Jon. I did this cautiously, small bits at a time. His hands. The blurred edge of his jaw. Never whole.”

    A process that needs to be used cautiously on this consuming, confusing bespokenness, not template, of the Bosnian war in the1990s. Mladić et al. Genocide and other events that seem to me to trawl some intrinsic human evil that I happen to have been synchronously watching in episodes while reading this book: a nine hour film entitled ‘Shoah.’
    It is the tangential story of a woman setting up a website to portray that era, while, her husband is actually involved on the spot where it happens. And as if by WiFi of the Wife she is visited by Guests as Ghosts of that war. (The previous story’s visions also somehow seem to cohere with the general ambiance of this one.)

    “‘You did that.’ But their voices were tired: it was hard for them to remember which flag to kiss and which to burn.”

  20. Barcelona

    PHILIP LANGESKOV

    “He wanted a quick fix, a hit, something that he could get into and out of in the least time possible; something that he could race through and get to the end.”

    And we get that in the end story of Luis (a version of this reader?) conjoined to the otherwise separate long story of Daniel and his surprise eponymous trip for him and his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I won’t go into their existing connection with the city, and with the man there who vacates his apartment for their stay. Suffice to say this is a story of compelling deadpan suspense with not only a separate story ulcer conjoined but a further story as canker or worse in the shape of the discrete Graham Greene story chosen by Daniel to read on the aeroplane as retold in summary (and referenced in the bit I quoted above). It seems as if I, too, was in slow motion step with this whole narrative. And taken there in the shape of the baby that Daniel and his wife never chose to have. I nearly managed to reclaim it from the airport carousel. A quiet “catastrophising” of events in progression of cause-and-effect and/or synchronicity, a progression impossible to divert, a literary audit trail that I somehow feel still continues with my pre-set journey towards happening to read this work today.

    “: the great sense of life that they hauled in their wake seemed to verge on the miraculous.”

    My previous review of this author is about the place where I was brought up: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/best-british-short-stories-2011/#comment-11841

    Another obliquely strange but much longer Graham Greene work I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/under-the-garden-graham-greene/ “curiosity growing inside him like cancer.”

    Thus ends another significant pilgrimage for me through a BBSS anthology, this one full of Shadowy Thirds and Droguli.

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