Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

A.S. Byatt: Short Stories

Some short stories are merely anecdotes- we go swiftly from A to Z, not looking about us, towards a final twist or reverse or punchline, in the manner perfected by Guy de Maupassant. Such stories can be very fine. But even finer are the ones that give us a whole world in miniature, in which the people are more than ciphers and the landscape shimmers and the events are surprising and the resolution resonates outwards like a struck gong. These are the kind of stories Byatt writes. Even her slightest things have weight and mass.

I've read two of her collections now: The Little Black Book of Stories and Elementals. They're not managed collections (though they pretend to be.) Really she's just swept together whatever uncollected bits and pieces she happens to have to hand. A glittering study of loss and landscape (Crocodile Tears) is followed by a piece of comic whimsy (A Lamia in Cevennes) which is followed by a fairy story (Cold) which is followed by...but you get the idea. The last piece in Elementals (Christ in the House of Martha and Mary) was commissioned by the National Gallery. It's a chip from the workbench, a trifle,  But what a pretty thing it is-  how closely worked, how brightly faceted.

I enjoyed Possession, but I like these stories more.  I complained about the "poems" in the novel that they weren't really poems at all, which surprised me because the stories- some of which I'd read first- are the work of someone who handles language the way you expect a poet to do.  They corruscate, they prickle,  they wink with sudden lights. 

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