No longer SO modern


Malcolm Bradbury (ed): The Penguin Book of Modern Short Stories, 1987

“Modern” in anthology titles is asking for trouble, if you ask me – like “final” in document file names.

What’s dated and what still shines? I relished the stories by V.S. Pritchett, Angus Wilson, Muriel Spark and Rose Tremain. Unexamined sexism and othering repel the reader (well, this one anyway) and here go unexcused by any exceptional literary value. I am sympathetic to the blunter feminist fables but they don’t make for thrilling fiction. And otherwise, the Jean Rhys story is grim, bitter, not quite tangible; Angela Carter’s aches with vulnerability; Martin Amis’ is masterful, memorable and /but (as my friend Julian – not-Barnes – said many years ago) nasty fiction.

A couple of quotes:

“You must – what is that expression in shooting? – you must aim off. You must aim off for truth, I think.”

Julian Barnes, “One of a Kind”, a story about novelists

“I should like to like Schumann’s music better than I do; I daresay I could make myself like it better if I tried: but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying …”

Samuel Butler, quoted on the back cover

This comes under the category of second-hand-bookshop finds in a non-English-speaking country. Thanks to Eduarda at Bookshop Bivar.

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