Best British Short Stories 2015 (edited by Nicholas Royle; Salt, 2015)
Reviewed by Hazel King
This anthology of twenty-one short stories aims high with its promise to deliver the best, and it certainly delivers a strong and varied collection, gathered from pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, websites and even academic journals. There is a broad range of styles and genres reflected here, from the more conventional ‘literary’ story to dystopian and fantastic worlds, classic twist-in-the-tale endings and more experimental structures that push the boundaries of what a short story should look like.
The collection opens with Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher August 6th 1983, about the relationship between an assassin and the woman whose house he tricks his way into because her window will give him a good angle from which to observe his target. Despite the controversy that surrounded its publication, the focus is less on the politics and more on the fragile understanding that develops between the two protagonists.
Following on from Mantel are equally affecting stories, including Lucky by Julianne Pachico, where a young girl’s family disappears overnight, leaving her alone and frightened against the backdrop of revolution. The Lake Shore Limited by K J Orr is a study in grief that slowly peels back the layers of a man who takes refuge in obsessive behaviour to escape the outside world. In Uschi Gatward’s The Clinic, a couple try to hide their child’s genius and are eventually forced to flee from a threat that is never brought to the light but lurks at the dark edges of this dystopian future.
One of the most striking features of this collection is that many of the stories don’t resolve the action or conflict, but instead show us a pivotal moment in a character’s life. The point of the story is not resolution but the character’s epiphany, or the moment of change in their life rather than the consequences of that change. It’s a mode of storytelling more often seen in flash fiction, but in these longer stories it’s no less effective. The narrative takes us to the precipice and then leaves us there, allowing the story to act as a springboard for the reader’s imagination.