Recently I have been reading Quantum of Solace: the complete collection of the James Bond short stories and About Love and other Stories by Anthon Chekhov.
While the stories in both volumes are quite different they are both obviously short fiction collections. I think these tales are a much neglected form of writing and have been wondering why that is. When you think about it many great writers have either written shorter or short fiction. These stories aren’t lost but equally how often do you see someone reading short stories on a train, or how often do you find a short story in a newspaper supplement? (I am referring to British papers here).
I think in many ways in these very busy modern times a collection of shorter tales can be far more satisfying than a long novel that takes you time to complete because so many of us can never sit down for two or three hours and really consume a a novel, or let it consume us.
Short stories can be just as profound and stay with just as much as a longer tale when they are well written.
I studied short stories as part of my A- Level in English literature and found them interesting but preferred the novels, but at the time I had the time to read all day!
My interest in short fiction was re awakened when I bought a collection of Christmas stories last year. One of the stories was a haunting tale about a lonely old lady organising a Christmas party. I won’t spoil the story but it really affected me and the tale has stayed with me ever since.
The James Bond stories could perhaps be seen as working because you already know the character and background of 007 so less characterisation and exposition is required. I tried to read them thinking about what my response would if I didn't know the written and screen Bonds so well and I think the stories hold up well. Fleming’s written style might be sparse but he makes very definite statements about characters that work well in a short story and his narrative thread is usually very strong. The Chekhov stories are different again, some of them do involve recurring characters but others don’t and they are all interesting, although more taxing than the Bonds.
I enjoy being able to read a story and feel a sense of completion before I go to sleep or when I get off a train. Of course I also enjoy a longer experience with a book, being able to look forward to reading more of a really gripping story when I get home and having that feeling you have of a secret life or love when you are really engaged with a great book. However I often find that I start a book and realise I could love it but I either end up giving myself three hours sleep a night or end up not enjoying the book as much as I know I would if I could read it for longer. Short stories don’t give me that same sense that there is always something I haven’t finished quite properly that taking a long time to read a long book can do