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.
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.
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.
An NPR Best Book of the Year
The award-winning author of The Past once again "crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural" (Washington Post), in a collection of stories that elevate the mundane into the exceptional.
The author of six critically acclaimed novels, Tessa Hadley has proven herself to be the champion of revealing the hidden depths in the deceptively simple. In these short stories it’s the ordinary things that turn out to be most extraordinary: the history of a length of fabric or a forgotten jacket.
Two sisters quarrel over an inheritance and a new baby; a child awake in the night explores the familiar rooms of her home, made strange by the darkness; a housekeeper caring for a helpless old man uncovers secrets from his past. The first steps into a turning point and a new life are made so easily and carelessly: each of these stories illuminate crucial moments of transition, often imperceptible to the protagonists.
A girl accepts a lift in a car with some older boys; a young woman reads the diaries she discovers while housesitting. Small acts have large consequences, some that can reverberate across decades; private fantasies can affect other people, for better and worse. The real things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams.
Bad Dreams and Other Stories demonstrates yet again that Tessa Hadley "puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master" (Lily King, author of Euphoria).
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.
For ten years, Estrin Lancaster has fled Philadelphia. From the Philippines to Berlin, she’s been a traveler without a destination, an expatriate without a motherland. In each of the cities Estrin favors, she manages an apartment, a job, a lover, and never tarries past the first signs of ennui.
Her latest destination is Belfast, in Northern Ireland. After twenty years of ritualized violence, this city, too, is exhausted—a town where when one more bomb explodes in the city center, old ladies blow the dust off their treacle cakes and count their change. Here the lanky and spiteful Farrell O’Phelan, former purveyor of his own bomb-disposal service, technically Catholic but everyone’s aggravation, wrangles through the maze of factions in the North by despising every side. Farrell’s affair with the curious Estrin is nonetheless a meeting of two loners; like hers, Farrell’s marathoning around the planet has become a running in place. In deadlocked Northern Ireland, it has become harder and harder to believe that anything is happening at all.
A grand tragi-comedy—one of the earliest displays of the ambition and intelligence that has since earned Lionel Shriver worldwide acclaim—Ordinary Decent Criminals is about conflict groupies, people terrified of domesticity, who stir up anguish in their lives and their countries to avoid the greater horror of what lies closest to home.
In 2029, the United States is engaged in a bloodless world war that will wipe out the savings of millions of American families. Overnight, on the international currency exchange, the “almighty dollar” plummets in value, to be replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” In retaliation, the president declares that America will default on its loans. “Deadbeat Nation” being unable to borrow, the government prints money to cover its bills. What little remains to savers is rapidly eaten away by runaway inflation.
The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable fortune filtering down when their ninety-seven-year-old patriarch dies. Once the inheritance turns to ash, each family member must contend with disappointment, but also—as the U.S. economy spirals into dysfunction—the challenge of sheer survival.
Recently affluent, Avery is petulant that she can’t buy olive oil, while her sister, Florence, absorbs strays into her cramped household. An expat author, their aunt, Nollie, returns from abroad at seventy-three to a country that’s unrecognizable. Her brother, Carter, fumes at caring for their demented stepmother, now that an assisted living facility isn’t affordable. Only Florence’s oddball teenage son, Willing, an economics autodidact, will save this formerly august American family from the streets.
The Mandibles is about money. Thus it is necessarily about bitterness, rivalry, and selfishness—but also about surreal generosity, sacrifice, and transformative adaptation to changing circumstances.