Saturday, 12 July 2008

Silliness Spoken of Short Fiction

This wrong-headed silliness from Susan Hill in The Guardian today:

A hundred different people would give you a hundred reasons why short stories do not sell well. Mine are that, ultimately, the story is less satisfying than the novel, lacks the depth, variety, richness and multilayers of meaning and reference. The short story can do much but still not as much as the novel. It is a small, highly polished jewel and can be flawless. There are some masterpieces. But the operative word is still "small".

There is an urgency to the short story that can’t exist in the novel. People talk about the confines and the narrow scope of the short story as opposed to the novel; it’s not a confined form and comparing it to the novel is like comparing it to the poem. I have found depth, variety, richness and multilayers of meaning and reference in so very many many short stories.

I don't know whose short fiction Susan Hill is reading, but here are a few to try:
Edna O’Brien, Flannery O’Connor, Michéle Roberts, Claire Keegan, Seán O’Reilly, Mike McCormack, Richard Ford, Mary Morrissey, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, John Updike, Emma Donoghue, Manuel Munoz, Raymond Carver, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Helen Dunmore, Tim Winton, Rose Tremain, Ernest Hemingway, Mavis Gallant, Michael Trussler, Robert Olen Butler...just to name a few of the more famous practitioners.


BarbaraS said...

Ooooh. Hasn't she a cheek. Bit like the poet who might denigrate the short story form, 'Oh, but it takes far too long compared to a poem...'

I wonder why people don't think, before they open their mouth to change foot.

Tania Hershman said...

God this makes me very angry. Lacking depth, variety, richness, multilayers? Frankly, to me that describes the state of the modern novel. Your list is great - i'd add Ali Smith, AL Kennedy, Roy Kesey, Alice Munro.... more and more. Who is this Susan Hill?

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi B
This weird attitude prevails, for many reasons. I know I'm a big story fan, so I'll jump to it's defence but, Lord, some of what she says is so blatantly wrong. A lack of depth? Richness? Variety???!!! Come on!

BarbaraS said...

I've always thought that each form, poem, story or novel (or drama) has its shape (and challenges) because that was the best method for the writer to do so. Depth, richness and variety come in all sizes... it's not a one size-fits-all world, after all.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

...and I suppose she never ever even picks up a poem, because if a short story does not hold "depth, variety, richness and multilayers of meaning and reference", then naturally, poetry is inconsequential in the extreme.

What an extraordinary comment!

(Just back from The West Cork Lit Fest, where thankfully, novels (Carlo Gebler, Michael Collins) short stories (Sean Lusk, Joyce Russell, Selma Dabbagh, Mia Gallagher 'n me) and poetry (Paul Durgan, Matthew Sweeney, Michael McCarthy, Peter Fallon, Bernard O'Donoghue, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Derek Mahon) were celebrated with equal delight, passion and reverence.

Sarah Hilary said...

Susan Hill strikes me as being overly-fond of the sweeping generalisation. She usually carries it off so convincingly that your first reaction is Oh she sounds as if she knows what she's talking about! She must have read 1000s of short stories! In fact, I wonder if she's read any by the authors you list. I'd add Muriel Spark to the roll-call. I think some readers are adverse to reading short stories, which is fair enough, to each her own. But the criticism levelled by SH here is just plain daft.

Jo said...

yes, i read that. i understand that it's a shift from reading novels to short stories but allowing a change of mindset opens up all kinds of possibilities! perhaps we should all send her one of our story's, en masse - like a petition!

Tania Hershman said...

I thought I posted a comment but it seems to have disappeared. Gosh, this is totally ridiculous! Frankly, Susan Hill's "lacks the depth, variety, richness and multilayers of meaning and reference" is exactly how I feel about most modern novels. Has she never read a good short story? Obviously not. To add to your list: Ali Smith, AL Kennedy, Alice Munro, Roy Kesey....I don't think we should bother sending her a story. Don't give her too much attention - we KNOW how great short stories are, she's missing out.

Eimear said...

she seems to see the short story as a mini novel rather than a genre unto itself. The greater part of the short story is the stuff beneath the surface, the stuff you hint at and don't say; whereas for a novel to be really satisfying I think you eventually have to resolve and be explicit about the subtext.

They're very different forms and it doesn't make much sense to say one is richer than the other, cause they're both rich in different ways. It comes down to personal preference.

Women Rule Writer said...

Hey all,

Something weird is going on with the comments. I accept them, then they disappear!!
So sorry to all whose comments are moving / disappearing.

Thanks for taking the time. I'll see if I can sort out this glitch.

Aidan said...

I can't but agree with the commenters. Novels and short stories are different drugs so comparing one with the other is missing the point somewhat.
I have read short stories by many but not all of those on your list. I really like Colm Tóíbín short stories too but for me the current master of the art is Olaf Olafsson. His "Valentines" is the best book of shorts stories I have ever read.

Women Rule Writer said...

I read Valentines too. We shortlisted it for the FOC the year I judged (last year). Olaf is a gent too. He's a top man in Sony NY and he flew in and out from NY on the same day for the FOC fest, just to read! Lovely man & a great writer.

Aidan said...

Wow, I am jealous that you met him. I have read all of his books and indeed because he is a man of multiple talents I greatly admire him. You probably noticed from my blog that Iceland is one of my favourite countries and he is a great example of the kind of people that wonderful small, creative country spawns.
His novel "Walking into the night" loosely based around the life of William Randolph Hearst is also a fantastic read and up there with the best of the fictional biography for (along with "The Master" by Colm Toibin and "Dancer" by Colum McCann).
Yes, I'm a fan of his ;-)