Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A few Short stories

I have always loved the short story format. Unlike the long novel, where you need to explore the idea and the emotion with depth and persistence, a short story is like a small walk, with always a clearer path and destination, compared to the longer version of prose, which may sometimes take you through the labyrinth and then leave you there. Besides, there are practical benefits to the genre – it is easier to read online and so it is possible to sneak one in amidst work. It's also quite handy during a commute – you can finish one on each ride without breaking the continuity. For that reason, it is also quite good in any time-constrained situations where you are unable to find enough time for a heavier tome.

Lured by all these benefits, I have been indulging in story-reading in the past few days and come across quite a few good ones. A few I really liked:

My Oedipus Complex by the Irish author Frank O Connor. I loved the humor with which O Connor details out a young boy's hostility against his war-returned father

Jorge Luis Borges' The Garden of forking paths (Spanish), which is a slightly cryptic story of several alternative futures and possibilities. A full text of the story can be found here.

A Thousand years of good prayers by Yiyun Li (China). (Her collection has incidentally won the Frank O'Connor International short story award). The story voices the after-effects of living in a prohibitive and secretive communist regime, in a graceful and unpredictable manner.

An Encounter by James Joyce (part of the collection The Dubliners) where two adventurous school students bunk school and go through many experiences, including an encounter with a lecherous old man. I felt that the story summed up the whole experience of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes in a few lines – Ireland through a child's eye. A link to the text can be found here.

Silence by the Russian author Leonid Andreyev, which is a story of the guilt, submission and eventual breakdown of a grievous father after the suicide of his daughter. Andreyev has described beautifully the flow of emotions of a father who confronts his misgivings as a parent without knowing what he could have done better. The story can be read here.

Although not a short story, but belonging to the world of short prose, I also read a fictional letter called Lord Chandos Letter by Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, where Lord Chandos, a once famous writer, describes his failure at words and expression of thoughts. All I can say it is one of the most expressive and elaborate pieces of expression that I have come across, which is very ironic to its theme. The letter can be found here.


Alok said...

somehow i don't enjoy reading short stories as much as novels... though i do understand the problem with time and sincerely wish people would write more shorter novels. story works by building up to a single moment and if you add too many details and don't elaborate and build up on them it just feels like an artificially made-up fragment. I would much rather read a thoughtful essay or poetry instead to get the same effect.

that said I haven't read any of the stories except for the last one that you list here. thanks for the links though...

thinking of stories I am reminded of one particular story in Hindi - Parinde by Nirmal Varma. It is a huge personal favourite of mine... I have read it so many times that i almost remember every sentence. I was thinking of typing it and putting it on the internet too but never did... finding hindi books is difficult but Nirmal Verma's stories are definitely worth looking for...

another very nice (and a favourite) story in hindi that you can read on internet is Yahi Sach Hai by Mannu Bhandari. I hope the hindi font works at your end. It is a story of a love-traingle told from the perspective of the woman. Wonderful portrait of indecision and confusion when it comes to the "truth" of feelings... It was made into a movie too called Rajnigandha.

Now that i have typed the whole thing I think I have assumed that you haven't already read either :)

Madhuri said...

Thanks for the link and mentioning the stories - I have not read them, mainly because of poor access to Hindi works. It will be great if you could type out Parinde.

I think you are mistaken in assuming that short stories build-up to an end. In fact in the ones that I have mentioned, only Borges' story ends in what you would call a 'single moment'. In all of the others, the end is a continuity, even though they do make a point and come back.

Roxana Ghita said...

I think it is much more difficult to write a good short story than a novel, precisely because there are much more constraints. I adore Lord Chandos, it is for sure one of the most poetical, deep and intriguing texts ever written. And I love The House of the Sleeping Beauties by Kawabata, maybe you would too. It's overwhelming.

Madhuri said...

Roxana, thanks for visiting. Even I think writing a good short story is far more difficult than writing a novel where you have the luxury of length to expand your idea.
I have never read Kawabata - will look out for the story.

shiva said...

Thanks Madhuri for giving the links, couldn't wait to read them...

Madhuri said...

Shiva, you are welcome. Hope you enjoy reading them.
BTW, Borges is a very good story teller it turns out. In the past few days, have gone through a couple more of them: Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote and Library of Babel - worth the time.