A lot of ink (or electronic equivalent) has been spilt in debating the merits of the short story compared to the novel and pondering why it is less commercially successful as a genre. To me the reasons are obvious. At risk of repeating what I may have said before, I enjoy reading a good short story, but the satisfaction it gives is of a different order to what’s gained from reading a novel. A short story will often have the feeling of a tour de force (of style or character or narration or all three), a sumptuous or piquant mouthful. A novel on the other hand will be less concentrated as a reading experience, but IMO, more sustaining, more of a three course meal.
Of course I don’t always want a three course meal and how dull life would be without the occasional yummy cake or chunk of pizza. I think my problem lies with the short story collection or magazine. When I have the thing in my hand I want to read through it and this is always a mistake. Too many short stories at one go – like cakes and chocolate – are indigestible.
What I’m getting around to is this week’s broadcasting first, Flash – five pieces of flash fiction each day in place of Radio 4’s short story slot. The author is Tania Hershman, a great writer (currently working at Bristol university) and pioneer of short fiction. The stories I’ve heard so far (from Tuesday) are all great. Using i-player I listened to them over two evenings. But I don’t think I would have liked the experience in real time. I had to stop the audio stream after the first one because I needed time to let ‘My mother is an upright piano’ sink in before moving on to the next one.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased this relatively new genre has been given air time, and I suppose the schedules make it hard to scatter these little gems throughout a day or week. But flashes of brilliance only occur in surrounding darkness. I would have liked them served individually, each in its own wrapper, like the best of Belgian chocolates.