Innocence: Roald Dahl

★★★★

Tales of Youth and Guile

What a crazy few weeks it’s been! Having shuttled back and forth between London, Oxford, Leeds and Washington, I expected to get lots of reading done, but unfortunately I’ve developed an irritating tendency to fall asleep as soon as the train or plane gets moving. Now back home, having shaken off the worst of the jet-lag, I took refuge on my sofa from the nasty cold rain outside and treated myself to the first of several books of Roald Dahl’s short stories, recently reissued in thematic collections by Penguin. Like most people, I suspect, I read lots of Dahl when I was small but never progressed to his writing for adults. This particular collection, with its themes of childhood and naivete, includes Dahl’s autobiography Boy (written for children), as well as a group of other short stories (for grown-ups), some of which reflect his own experiences through a fictional lens.

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Snowdrift and Other Stories: Georgette Heyer

★★★

This post will be shorter than usual, because this book of short stories by the doyenne of Regency fiction is actually a reissue of Pistols for Two, which I wrote about some months ago. (I strongly advise that you read that post too, as only then will you get a full picture of my thoughts.) As I discussed the vast majority of the stories then, I’ll focus here on the three previously unpublished stories added to Snowdrift for its new release. These are all variations on a theme, namely encounters on the road; and, while they aren’t Heyer at her best, they do have a certain historical charm.

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Bite-Sized Russians

Bite-Sized Books

Penguin’s Little Black Classics series includes a number of works by Russian writers, who haven’t figured very prominently in my reading to date. It was time to correct that. These short stories gave me the chance to have brief encounters with Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Gogol and Chekhov, none of whom I’d read before, as well as renewing my acquaintance with the towering Tolstoy. It has felt rather like speed-dating with Russian authors. Along the way I’ve been introduced to ambitious officers, unhappy wives, unscrupulous peasants, mentally unstable dreamers and an errant nose with a penchant for disguise. My appetite has certainly been whetted and, in due course, I’ll be looking into some of these authors in greater detail. By the way, I must stress that I’m well aware Gogol is Ukrainian by birth, but I hope I can be forgiven for including him here, as he’s often cited among the great Russian-speaking writers. Now, don your fur hat, grab your tot of vodka and hie ye to your troika, as we delve into the 19th-century Russian mind…

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Tales of Strange Encounters from Tor.com

Tor.com

Time for another collection of short-stories from the reliably thought-provoking archives of Tor.com. This time I’ve selected a group of tales which focus on strange encounters, in which curious creatures add meaning to characters’ mundane lives, or people unearth odd threads in their own family histories. The stories also have a refreshing cultural and historical sweep, stretching from the modern-day anonymity of a big American city, to the parched grasslands of a post-apocalyptic future; to the exotic charm of medieval China and India at the turn of the 20th century.

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The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night: Jen Campbell

★★★½

Some of you might already be familiar with Jen Campbell, the compiler of Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops. Although I haven’t yet read these compendiums of the odd, I’ve seen snippets here and there and they’ve made me laugh out loud. So I was curious to see how Campbell’s talents would translate to the short story medium. The answer is: extremely well; although these unsettling stories aren’t at all what one would expect from this tongue-in-cheek observer of human nature. Or… on the other hand… perhaps they are, for they reach deep inside us to the darker corners of the psyche, and their unifying feature is that these miniature worlds seem so straightforward, so simple, until you look between the lines and realise that something, subtly, is out of kilter.

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Dystopian Short Stories from Tor.com

Tor.com

Here is the next batch of short stories from Tor.com. I’ve collected together five stories which deal with near futures in which the world has changed: often clearly for the worse, but sometimes for the better with a poignant kick. Here we find people relieving others of pain or emotion; a virus that traps you in a fatal dream of happiness; and the cruelty of the fashion industry taken to extremes. And a reminder, should you need it, that dystopias don’t always need to be outside our own heads…

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Tales Retold at Tor.com

Tor.com

In the background of the other books I’m reading, I continue to burrow my way through Tor’s archive of short fiction. In fact, I’ve stacked up so many of their short stories to write about that I’ve divided them into thematic groups. Here, to kick things off, are five stories dealing with tales you think you know, retold with flair and a twist. From fairy tale to Greek myth to Gothic horror, these novelettes reintroduce us to familiar heroes and villains as you’ve never quite seen them before.

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The Hideout: Egon Hostovský

★★★½

A man writes a long overdue letter to his distant wife, from the cellar where he has been hiding in Normandy since the invasion of France by the Nazis. It is a confession, an affirmation and a form of self-analysis. The narrator is by turns ridiculous and profound, confined in his hiding place while war rages above: forced, while great events unfold unseen outside, to retread the well-worn paths of his own memories. Yet, in coming to understand his past, he has more sense of purpose in the present and, finally, begins to see the shape that his own future must take.

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More Short Stories from Tor.com

Tor.com

I’ve really been enjoying reading short stories from Tor.com – it feels decadent to sample one or two different authors during my commute – and so I decided to continue working my way through their treasure-trove of original fiction, each story presented with its own specially-designed cover by one of various talented artists. This selection includes all manner of fantastical sub-genres, taking in horror, romance, morality tales and epic fantasy with a comic twist. Find the first batch here. More coming soon!

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Wicked Wonders: Ellen Klages

★★★★

Childhood memories are a potent force in our lives, continuing to resonate within us even as we grow older and come to believe that we’ve left the magic of that early age behind. Ellen Klages’s collection of short stories recaptures some of the innocence and enchantment of childhood, in a series of tales by turn evocative, romantic and poignant. Sometimes her stories bring us into the world of children who are on the brink of new lives, new potential and new discoveries; while sometimes we find characters closer to ourselves: adults who have put away childish things, but who find themselves drawn back in various ways to the brink between that age and this. We find children confronted with the cruel realities of the adult world, and fairy tales for adults, with nods to fantasy, science fiction and straightforward fiction. There really is something for everyone.

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