Long Live the Short Story


Last week the Australian Book Industry Awards were announced and I was elated to read that a collection of short stories has won one of the major awards. It is not often that a book of short stories is nominated for a major book prize.  Nam Le’s book The Boat is an amazing collection of short stories.  While reading this book, you can’t help but feel involved in the multiple storylines.  These include the uneasy reunion between a young Vietnamese writer in America with his ex-soldier father, the anxiety of a child assassin in Colombia, an ageing New York artist desperate for a reconciliation with his daughter, a boy’s coming of age in a rough Victorian fishing town and the political and personal turmoil in Iran.  My favourite short story in this book was the title story –The Boat, which tells of  the escape of a group of exhausted refugees from the Vietcong in a wallowing boat.

There are many benefits to a short story the most obvious is that you can finish a whole story without any interruptions, no need put the book down and lose where you are up to in the story, they are great to read when you don’t know what to read next and a fantastic way to discover new authors.

Edgar Allan Poe, said that a short story should be read in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours.  And he should know, as a prolific writer of short stories. Poe’s stories are both riveting and frightening, his terrifying Tell Tale Heart  follows an unnamed narrator who insists on his sanity after murdering an old man with a “vulture eye”. The murder is carefully calculated, and the murderer hides the body by cutting it into pieces and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately the narrator’s guilt manifests itself in the hallucination that the man’s heart is still beating under the floorboards. Makes you nervous to be in the house by yourself…doesn’t it?

If you are looking for something a little less sinister, but equally engrossing try Mick Jackson’s Ten Sorry Tales or revisit Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.  For humour and satire you can’t go past Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other TalesShaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia is part short story part graphic novel.

Discover the joy of the short story.


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