book of books – The Best Short Stories

A friend of mine pointed out that if you want to read some really good short stories then those by Rudyard Kipling are worth further investigation. Unfortunately because of the timing of his writing it has become deeply unfashionable because it is associated with the empire and has slight connotations of something bordering on the embarrassing and even slightly racist.

It is of its time but there is little in these stories that glamorises the past and most of the Empire tales are charactised by sun, sand and madness rather than a jolly good time.

As well as enjoying some cracking stories this collection inspires creative writers because of a real sense of adventure with different styles and for those contemplating some of their own writing there are some real lessons to learn here:

Lesson one – the narrative voice
In most stories it is not only human beings that talk but the quote marks only get handed out to the major characters. There is a great deal of inventiveness here with polo horses discussing tactics for a cup game in The Maltese Cat and the rivet, steam and various parts of the engine moaning about an Atlantic crossing in The Ship that Found Herself.

Lesson two – the twist
Getting a twist across in a story that might only be twenty pages long is quite an achievement but it is on display here with the slow twist of the children being ghosts in ‘They’ and the short sharp ending that the narrator has also suffered a loss of a child. Then there is the magical moment in ‘Wireless’ when it is not the messages coming across the Marconi machine that matter but the inspired words of poetry that come to a consumptive chemist in a trance.

Lesson three – paint it black
There are some brutal stories here that show life in all its darkness and as a result have a tension and sadness. The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot tells the story of a charitable worker who is kicked to death by her husband for not sharing the church monies. The Limitations of Pambe Serang recounts a tale of revenge that leads to both men dying – one from a stab wound and the other from the hangman’s noose. But At the End of the Passage shows that it is possible to mix the misery of loneliness and heat exhaustion with the supernatural to produce quite a disturbing result.

Kipling might have dated but his writing is fluid, inventive and deserves to be read. Just because a writer is unfashionable does not detract from the lessons they can give readers and there is enough in this volume to keep you thinking for quite a while.

Version read – Wordsworth Classics paperback

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