The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award 2014 captures the spirit of this mood and the short story’s knack for cutting straight to the action, the all-important moment of change. The five stories on this year’s shortlist were chosen by a panel of judges that included: poet and novelist Adam Foulds; author, illustrator and performer Laura Dockrill; editor Philip Gwyn Jones; BBC Editor of Books Di Speirs; and the broadcaster Alan Yentob, who chaired the panel and introduces this collection.
From the Orange Prize–winning author Rose Tremain comes a brilliant and picaresque novel of seventeenth-century England. In the wake of the gaudy years of the Restoration, Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to Charles II, faces the agitations and anxieties of middle age. Questions crowd his mind: has he been a good father? Is he a fair master? Is he the King’s friend or the King’s slave? In search of answers, Merivel sets off for the French court of Versailles, where—inevitably—misadventures ensue.
Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend. Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of the two men, one who becomes a hotel owner, the other a concert pianist, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it is lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It is a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists.
Intermingling settings in America and Britain, Lionel Shriver’s first collection explores property in both senses of the word: real estate and stuff. These pieces illustrate how our possessions act as proxies for ourselves, and how tussles over ownership articulate the power dynamics of our relationships. In Lionel Shriver’s world, we may possess people and objects and places, but in turn they possess us.
In the stunning novella "The Standing Chandelier," a woman with a history of attracting other women’s antagonism creates a deeply personal wedding present for her best friend and his fiancée—only to discover that the jealous fiancée wants to cut her out of their lives. In "Domestic Terrorism," a thirty-something son refuses to leave home, resulting in a standoff that renders him a millennial cause célèbre. In "The ChapStick," a middle-aged man subjugated by service to his elderly father discovers that the last place you should finally assert yourself is airport security. In "Vermin," an artistic Brooklyn couple’s purchase of a ramshackle house destroys their once-passionate relationship. In "The Subletter," two women, both foreign conflict junkies, fight over a claim to a territory that doesn’t belong to either.
Exhibiting a satisfying thematic unity unusual for a collection, this masterful work showcases the biting insight that has made Shriver one of the most acclaimed writers of our time.
Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.