An expedition to Mars goes terribly wrong.
A seaside pier collapses.
A thirty-stone man is confined to his living room.
One woman is abandoned on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.
Another woman is saved from drowning.
Two boys discover a gun in a shoebox.
A group of explorers find a cave of unimaginable size deep in the Amazon jungle.
A man shoots a stranger in the chest on Christmas Eve.
An inspirational nudge from SimonReadsBooks on Instagram at the end of last year encouraged me to read more short stories in 2018. I am glad that I did.
Short stories are a great way to squeeze in some extra reading time or, alternatively, get back into reading after a barren spell. There are many reasons why reading short stories is a rewarding pursuit.
- You can open a collection and pick and choose anyone you like. (I usually read the shortest ones first!) Another bonus is that you don’t need to read every single page of the book to get a feeling of satisfaction.
- Short stories are very efficient to read; plot, characters and problem are often introduced in the first two pages. You find your bearings very quickly which makes them easy to read. They grab your attention and refuse to let go.
- They are also easy to finish in one sitting yet can give you something to think about long after that final page. This makes them easier to share and discuss with other readers.
I picked up The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon mainly because of my previous experience reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a few years ago. I liked the idea of casually reading a few short stories with a similar vibe. I was hugely surprised when I discovered that this collection went in a totally different direction. In fact, this collection ‘demonstrates two things’:
First that Mark Haddon is the master of the short form (several of the stories have been longlisted for prizes), second that his imagination is even darker than we thought.
It is hard to pick a favourite from the nine stories in this collection. They are all so imaginative and thought-provoking. The Pier Falls describes a horrific tragedy in real time. The Island takes us back into ancient history for a tale of multiple betrayals. The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear is a jungle story with a mixture of National Geographic , The Bone Clocks and The Lost City Of Z. Evidently, the author has a favourite of his own:
Despite the spectacular nature of the storylines, the surreal becomes real through Haddon’s masterful writing style. A darkness lurks in the background of every story here, but still no two stories are the same. If you wanted to study the art of short story writing, this book would be an excellent starting point.
I picked up this book thinking that I would just flick through it and read a couple of stories. In the end, I devoured every single page and was left wanting more. That is the ultimate compliment that I can pay to this exceptional book. I would put it up there with Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies The Island as one of the best short story collections that I have read from start to finish. Five stars from me.