Best British Short Stories 2015

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

(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)

Featuring stories by: Hilary Mantel, Jenn Ashworth, Helen Simpson, Charles Wilkinson, Rebecca Swirsky, Jonathan Gibbs, Matthew Sperling, Julianne Pachico, Katherine Orr, Bee Lewis, Helen Marshall, Uschi Gatward, Emma Cleary, Alison Moore and Neil Campbell.

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

24 thoughts on “Best British Short Stories 2015

  1. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher August 6th 1983


    “I’m here for your sightlines. I don’t care about your affinities.”

    A miracle of a story, where the reading eyes are mishmashed by a misangled door to Narnia or somewhere next door and back again, a bourgeois sash window to shoot a bespoke gun through, and demerara in a hot drink as sugar. It was a boilerman in disguise as an IRA gunman, or vice versa, a resonating crystallisation of the ‘The Good Terrorist’ by Doris Lessing (just opportunely and accidentally real-time reviewed in the last week or so: and a perfect description of this part of London, full of itself as itself on the page, the believable affinity between him and the possibly batty woman whose flat is to be used by him as a lethal sight-line, the whole world outside, it seems, being a network of his colluding PALS, to shoot down the toddling handbagger after her own sight-line has been operated on in the hospital, the hospital’s frontage being overlooked from the woman’s sash window. Remember that occasion? She left the hospital, as we watched her bid goodbye to a line of nurses and doctors, and rejoice we said, just rejoice. Rejoice at this story.

    “They may have been blind at the end, but their eyes were open when they went into it.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  2. Lucky


    “The man’s face suddenly becomes a mass of deeply ingrained lines. He isn’t old or wrinkled but his face is still cracked with deep splits, as if only just recently patched together.”

    Stay-at-home girl, with her Star Wars Books, while her family go away for the weekend, well-characterised adolescence of her in an inscrutable Latin American type place, supposedly with Angelina a servant-like woman who sometimes gives unwelcome touches, like the male stranger (part of whose description I’ve given in a quote above): perhaps they are the same person? Both trying to get in, beyond the locks the girl has turned against them. The electricity generator now stopped, Other insidious haunting hints of guerillas etc. An impending societal dislocation. I almost imagined, hope against hope, that she would be rescued. Ah, it’s Luke Skywalker, so rejoice! But that may be my wishful reading between the lines on my part? A sinister and memorable read, whatever the case. With ominous blanks.

    “The computers in the office seem like medieval relics. The screens stare at her, blank and impassive as grey-faced children asking for coins at traffic lights.”

  3. 4CB92797-3FE4-47D4-87A5-86DBFA8698B5

    The Iron Men


    “There is something comforting about seeing my shadow stretching out in front of me,…”

    There is so much of me in this wonderful ‘dying fall’ story. That shadow. The beachcombing. The dislike of dogs. Although not a teacher nor into chemistry or physics, I can empathise with my dispersal at the end of my life into chemicals, my consciousness evaporating amid the stars, even my gestalt real-time reviews, after my demise, awaiting de-Wifing, a withering of WiFi and eventually widowed Wife? But thankfully I won’t be in that long line of men standing at the sea’s edge, each with their bespoke burden of deserved or undeserved guilt. I did not allow my hatred, yes, hatred, not mere dislike, of dogs, to diminish. That thin end of the wedge that this story’s protagonist allowed. Nor his chemistry-physics stoicism regarding “‘mud sticks”. A heart-rending poignancy in this story. But that is where it will remain, for its endless posterity of future readers to feel and then leave there for others to do the same. Be Lewis, indeed, I say. Honey trap, or not.

  4. Festschrift


    “A combination of gaucheness and verve that would have been disarming, if I hadn’t already been thoroughly, comprehensively disarmed, dismembered, irradiated.”

    A highly sophisticated choreography of sexual and academic/business or conference politics that should be completely over my head. But it was not. It was as if I have become part of some archetypal social-literary symphony of words that flowed slickly, wittily, cynically, stoically, words from the POV of this woman about her ex-husband and her now terminally ill mentor Leonard and the bloke she met in an unmagical outside area held over for cigarette smokers at this particular conference. The conference for her mentor’s eponymous swansong. Seeking her life’s optimal anchor.

    My previous review of this author:

  5. Five Thousand Lads a Year


    “Lazy get.”

    But get it does (see the end of my review below)?
    The get being by a professional writer who gets not 5,000 but 20,000 hits on the website of writing and has a flat in Andalusia, who, like a primary school teacher, can enchant even difficult cases with story-telling and poetry and nifty moral tales. Here the difficult case is a prisoner segregated while awaiting anger management. Just one more lad out of 5,000 such cases a year, with not one failure for this writer.
    Not even this hardest case of all is a failure, because, later in emergency hospital after hunger strike, I infer that he wrote this very story by empathising that he was the teacher who had cured him. Who else would write ‘lazy get’ amid the rest of the stylish prose?
    That’s my theory, anyway. Hope it’s not a spoiler for this story, but just its happy ending..

  6. 611C9030-B128-4A89-B51A-8413B01CD3AE

    LS Lowry/ Man Lying on a Wall


    “All my life I’ve sat at desks in front of a computer in warm offices surrounded by women.”

    You as safety elf.
    Which side to fall off the wall?
    The river one side, or the road the other?
    Sherwood as a forest of matchstick men.
    A work break.
    A deadpan deadsnap corporate horror
    Wanting you to make this free verse,
    Rather that staying imprisoned
    By a lifetime plotted by fiction.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  7. Lightbox


    “I do some work at my laptop until the light from the screen is the only light coming from inside the room.”

    Watching Elsie. Living with her. Evocatively conveying images of the town, the blocks with yellow squares of others’ life outside the apartment where they both live. Always at least half-lit by the hotel shining though the windows. Following her life, her blog entries, her Facebook friends, keeping the narrator’s eye open for her well-being, sitting in the coffee shop, then watching her again at their home, as she dresses, say, for a night out. I have a theory he is her on-line follower. As I am his? And thus hers, too. The words are backlit.

  8. Green Boots’ Cave


    0B101718-3D74-4E2E-8819-15F92E3954B2”This is a vivid and complex dream of your whole life, in real-time, from your birth, right up until where you are now —“

    This story only makes sense if you gestalt real-time review it. Then it makes awesome sense. It is as if it was written purely to be subject to this review. And it is also as if I started #GestaltRealTimeReviewing ten years ago purely to experience what has now turned out to be one of the world’s truly great stories that reaches its peak simply because that peak is there — a synergy just ignited in real-time and in retrocausality simultaneously. Henceforth to be known (no longer gratuitously) as the Green Boots’ Cave Syndrome. Or the ManLyingOnAWall Syndrome?

  9. The Clinic


    “Has he been questioned before, I wonder, about branded goods on people found (alive?) in the woods, in caves?”

    Caves, indeed. The growing number of Green Boots Caves all over our land. More and more coded fiction like the inscrutable Lucky by Pachico. They hide in this book, aliens not humans, hiding tins of sardines like a game they play with our authorities, doctors and social workers who do not spot their hidden-in-plain-sight precocious children. A brand of survivalism fiction as an ironically positive Ligottian anti-natalism? No, it is a deadpan-true SF, more like, that certain ‘readers’ attracted to this book will fully understand and act upon.

  10. May the Bell Be Rung For Harriet


    “I was always a slight girl, but I had a way with strange children,”

    The strange child in the previous story, hidden in plain sight or, if visible, rarefied, here Harriet little more than a child herself, as a slightness for slightness, as a child Governess for other children and as this story’s gossamer ghost writer or narrator, to keep tidy and combed and suitably garbed a slightly younger girl, as tidy as her father’s high standards dictated.

    “I flailed ineffectually with a net, jumped until my arms ached, and despaired ever to understand how the dark and heavy things flew.”

    Only in this book can such a story not float or flutter away before you read it. No wonder it was chosen for reprinting. My own hymenal hawler or dreamcatcher now in play to keep Harriet herself also tidily intact within it.

  11. Strong Man


    ‘It hurts,’ I said. ‘Paintballing.’

    No wonder she needed her knee fixing. The precision of mending a fridge freezer, the precision of knee surgery, the strength of Putin, the strength of the immigrant Russian contracted to mend the fridge freezer (he lives in Brentwood), the anal retentiveness of her husband currently elsewhere (she a successful businesswoman, he an insecure historian currently studying ancient Mesopotamia, with three daughters, now her step-daughters, she his second wife (at home today for a a change to deal with domestic matters rather than her husband), his first wife having died), and history is lies, the Russian man thinks, as he finally mends the fridge freezer. She needs to write notes on what was precisely wrong with the fridge freezer for her husband’s future reference. Very telling. Makes me think anew about the fiction of history, the sliding scales of geography and its backstories, about sexual politics and the truth of fridge-freezers and of fiction. The paintballing of or as life. And the need to meticulously retell a story like this to make sure you understand it. Well, at least to know what it tells, if not why it tells it. Poking into the hole to clear the anus of food clogging it.

  12. Voice Over


    “Yes, well, I don’t know, someone sent me a book, it was a whole book about Dieter and his movies, and in it there was a whole two pages about this one shot.”

    The voice is over, indeed, a premonition in 2015, of Weinstein and MeToo.
    Disgrace and redemption as an omelette, the journey towards the amazon god and book pimping. And a transcripted recording of a mutual interview between two participants in a cinema film about to be relaunched. Their tangents and backstories in the sometimes negative synergy of their memories’ single panning shot, ten seconds of vision spread out into two lifetimes.

  13. The Lake Shore Limited

    K J ORR

    “She was hauling herself one step at a time with the help of the rail. He took her in: the roomy, low-cost, middle-American clothing. The hair, which must be grey or even white, dyed caramel and coaxed into a wave.”

    Three gratuitous journeys, except the main male protagonist only counts in twos. This is the story of three couples in chance encounters here with all the accoutrements of travel, and chance glances, chance decisions, all towards a single gestalt of unintended intent. The woman Joanie on the eponymous train through America in this British book, her thinking of a late husband. That is the first journey of two. The second journey of two is the main protagonist — with whom Joanie takes up, as part of the view of clouds outside the train’s window, one that we can all share wherever we are — and he, that protagonist, thinks about a memory sitting by his (soon to be late?) wife’s hospital bed and then a more distant memory on board an aeroplane with that same wife, the aeroplane no doubt carving through those same clouds? And the third journey of two is the young couple with whom he and Joanie meet up in the restaurant car of the eponymous train, and share chance small talk beyond their own recent chance small talk together as previous strangers. The twist at the end is that this protagonistic train journey itself was somehow destined to be more of a chance decision than any of the others. An immediate memory of his hospital visit or vigil (a vigil unfinished?) but a memory clouded by a different distance than that of time. Very telling in a gestalt of a detached alien’s cloudy view of humanity that this book seems to be cumulatively harbouring. No protagonism at all, in actual ironic fact. Despite my revelation of the existence of a plot twist, there are no spoilers of the story in this review of it.

  14. The First Day


    “; a buddleia attracting butterflies;”

    A tale of a mother and her daughter, on the eponymous first day. The feeling of starting afresh with the skills one has already learnt to try out, both meeting the challenges of this unaccustomed departure from each other, and a new path that most of us will have taken, given independent fate’s nodding us through when the time comes. And this book’s butterflies again, now barely beyond being hidden in plain sight.

  15. Go Wild in the Country


    “When they came back later they were laughing like coyotes, running up and down the paths in purposeful patterns as if creating a topographic maze together, one only seen by them or by an imaginary bird hovering overhead.”

    Another institution to which some of us go when independent fate nods us through on a half-chance it may do us good. Here, Tom works as staff, but fraternises with the damaged inmates, one called Nadine. With a larger than life session together – in the fields around the institution – with magic mushrooms. Has the decided feel of the late 1970s – backed up by entertainment references of the day. A feel of that imaginary alien again, disguised here as an imaginary bird hovering overhead, watching, nodding meaningfully, but not learning a lot from us, almost feeling sorry for us and for our pains and interactions and blurry demarcations lines.

    “There we sit together barely speaking, my brain slowing, settling, but still flickering connections, wondering if hers are making the same ones…”

  16. Secondhand Magic


    “He glanced at me underneath a fan of handsome eyelashes, quick as a bird.”

    Having read this author before, I have high expectations for this story. It indeed has FLAIR. It flows like magic. It has this book’s earlier independent fate that nods us thorough life, stoical, make do and mend, expectant of the worst, and the worst does happen, but do we truly recognise it when it comes, or do we see it as a happiness, turning us in and out of existence, even changing our name at a whim? A snowman in a chimney hat. A close-knit township called Hollow. A stuttering boy who wanted to be a magician but, on the occasion of his show, the second choice volunteer he summons from the audience makes HIM vanish instead of the other way round. And now I do this to the story itself. Bish. Bosh. Gone. It was a secondhand reprint in this book, anyway. A bad sister story of its good sororal source. Flowed so magically, it hardly touched the sides of my mind. And that ended the story even before it began. Magic, indeed. Its own stated expectations thwarted. And my own review of it tantalisingly dreamcaught upon itself.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  17. Fresh Water


    “Apparently it had once been thought that line-management structures should be linear;”

    Fiction, too. Now no longer any linear fiction, along with fresh water. This story (as controlled wilfulness with a densely packed audit trail of sane extrapolations disguised as absurdisms) of a boys’ school, once of the old school, a school that becomes sodden with the AICKMAN AMICABLE genre, here coming to terms, literally, with modernising and with the undrownworthy drought of its nearby river called Ver; a series of bureaucratic management changes from linear to conical regarding boys’ behaviour and cross-country practicals and academic subject dissemination. Not a satire so much in favour of our past traditions but more relishing the finding of things in the river of history as Aickman found things in similar circs, as he told us in his THE RIVER RUNS UPHILL. The characters of the two old fogey teachers are worthy of my own river. Brilliantly portrayed. And the visual arrows on the page are like passing birds looking cynically sidewise down at us. Just look at the line-managing of those fat but fleet arrows. The particular squamous thing from the river that one boy picks up is sort of representative of this story itself or of its imputed gestalt-reviewer’s mind, I think. To be put on your mantelpiece till when it or you first dries out finally.

    My many other reviews of this author: HERE

  18. The Common People


    “They worked in lines of fours and fives, in synchronicity and in breathtaking speed, as though performing well-rehearsed movements.”

    By means of a Biblical-style flow of narration, we hear of the town common around which the people have already set their roots, presumably for generations. Then a set of travellers arrive on the common, at first in dribs and drabs, then in fuller force of numbers, beginning to set up new structural roots. By devious political means, the original common people get the new ones removed. But one wonders whether the ‘original’ common people were all that original to the place themselves! A premonition in 2015 of some of the issues surrounding Brexit. And which original common people had their own Cinderellas with slippers to slip on or off depending with whom or with what they had been courting fate across illicit bridges, between which common markets or communities. The only originals being animals and other non-human nature endemic to the land.

  19. Eastmouth


    “She sees, in the molten wax around the wick of the candle, an insect. Sonia picks up her fork, aiming the handle into this hot moat. She is an air-sea rescue unit arriving on the scene to lift the insect to safety. Carefully, she places the insect on a serviette…”

    Swirsky’s common people are advancing again, I guess, as Sonia herself becomes the insect, with no hope of air-sea rescue. Not by common law, but a real arranged marriage impending at this atmospheric, typically threatening seaside resort. Among the common people, her intended’s parents, a token woman in a transparent mackintosh, a tribute Elvis act from a tribute Las Vegas setting, even Cannon and Ball.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  20. The Tourists


    “He doesn’t see us, but we’re watching. We’ve been doing so for a while now. We didn’t get any greetings, no gentle air kiss near the cheek, no firm pumping handshake, but that’s okay, we don’t take it personally, we don’t mind. Instead we take our time, take things slow:”

    This work seems to be the core of this book. Those deadpan alien watchers, like birds or baloo monkeys, or a wounded peacock, or his old friends with old people’s diseases, or someone who has lost a flip flop like that slipper was lost in Swirsky. Like them but NOT them. WE are this book’s watchers. Or that flip flop he’s found probably belongs to his feisty young daughter, whom he can’t currently find amid this house party, an unforgettable gathering meticulously and tactilely conveyed, in Latin America. With impending threats like the threats of those common people in Swirsky and Moore. Or political threats. Cannon and ball again, that the tourists like as much as jell-o?

  21. Worlds From the Word’s End


    “You told me you preferred your women quiet. You wanted to increase your word power? Trouble is, you didn’t know your own strength.”

    “We’d taken ourselves at our word, literally: so that, in everyday speech the supermarket became ‘that big shiny thing where you buy other things’, your house, ‘the building one block from the corner, count two along’.”

    That man recurrently counts to two again! This is a coda to the book, a coda that I fail to understand. Everything has been changed much in so few years, including Brexit and Trump, since this story was published. It must have been fair warning, though. If we could all go back in time and so understand it better, we would be able to help alter the world’s course. The diminuendo of nouns, then doing words, then… Presumably, not enough of us read it when we first had the chance, but we try to read it now, as I just did. And we don’t now have the words ready to replace the words it told us were missing, missing from the usage by us common people. A different story if we had only read it THEN.

    “The last time I saw you we spent days walking around my city. The only voices we heard were foreign: tourists or immigrant workers. You spoke their language but only I could understand the silent natives.”

    The silence that starts after the end of every book. There will always be one book that will be the last one you ever finish reading. Let’s hope it is this one. Or that it isn’t. Depends on hindsight. Or on those who watch as alien outsiders, watching us common people.


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