Saturday, November 02, 2013

Single shorts

Philip Hensher hopes that Penguin's issue of a single short story by Zadie Smith as a hardback and ebook indicates that we are 'at the beginning of a golden age of possibility, where writers can write at whatever length they choose'. I'm not quite sure sure that, as one commenter on the Guardian site points out, Penguin putting out what amounts to a Christmas-market taster from a novelist with Smith's profile is an indication of this, but I do hope, like Hensher, that the rise of the ebook is causing a sea-change in our attitude to the short story.

I have complained before on this blog about the fact that the manner in which short stories have generally been published in this country militates against the kind of reading that many short stories require. Many short stories need to be read as what Hensher calls 'exquisite singularities', and not 'as a chapter between chapters' in a collection. In recent years of course, we have had the market-driven rise of collections of linked short stories, in which individual stories are most supremely subsumed to the whole. Such collections have their charms, but I think they have pushed out the kind of short stories that are off-the-wall original and can't be repeated - which indeed the greatest short stories often are. As Hensher says, due to economic considerations, 'we don't publish books in the way they were conceived,' and this has been especially true for the short story.

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