Tag Archives: Literature

Short story versus novel

13 Oct

Every story encompasses a world. Every story accounts for a series of actions, whether experienced or imagined. The story, if it is any good, also contains within it a substratum, or an undertow, through which the reader is guided towards some underlying truth – or the possibility of a truth. This may consist of a paradox or even a seeming contradiction, but it will, in some way, be traced or suggested by the contours of the outer story.

This notion, at least, can be applied to the short story. When it comes to anything longer I tend to balk.  Today on the Guardian website, I read an article about the new novel by the admirable Donna Tartt, a monster of a book at 771 pages, and I recall what Italo Calvino once wrote:

‘Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.’

I don’t know whether or not I entirely agree with this, but the idea of time progressing as a linear continuum does seem to be tied to a social structure where roles (including that of the author) were more fixed, sedentary things. The author proclaimed his (and it was usually a his) authority through texts permeated with the authorial voice, and which sustained that voice, gave it credibility as a constant over a period of calculable time.

And who wants that authority? Not me. Not I, even. Which is why, on days like today, the simple rigour of the short story seems so much more appealing, and far less tiring.

Custard Trolley with llama

16 Jul

Are other people as astonished as I am by this kind of thing, found on any social networking site any day of the year?

Fabulous news! My haiku ‘The last dollop’ has been accepted by poetry mag ‘Custard Trolley’ special haiku edition. I am so thrilled, you can’t possibly imagine! Custard Trolley is one of the most prestigious and longstanding poetry mags of its kind: vibrant, innovative, and welcoming to unpublished or little known writers such as myself. What’s more they charge only $20 per submission, so it’s a bargain! Thanks to all my friends and family who have encouraged me to carry on writing despite so many rejections over the years, my recent nervous breakdown, and the loss of our cat, Tibby. I couldn’t have done it without you all!

This garbage will usually be followed by fifty ‘likes’ and a score of encouraging remarks such as ‘keep on writing, Gerry!’; ‘Always knew you had it in you’; ‘Next the Nobel!’

Why? Why does anyone care? Not specifically about Gerry’s haiku, but about such things at large? Why such a torrent of praise and encouragement? Is there not too much stuff in the world, especially dodgy stuff, bad poetry being amongst the dodgiest stuff around? Am I being a killjoy? Does it matter? Should anyone get worked up about this? Why do I look at Facebook anyway?

Good question. There must be something in me that feels that I am like Gerry, that I am, in fact,  a version of him,  and he of me. This is all so awful I think I should probably be condemned to death, probably by stoning. Better still, should never open Facebook again.

On a lighter note, I find this among my files, though I have no idea from whence it comes. A small delight, reflecting perfectly my own attitude to reading.

Much as we should love to grasp things with a complete understanding, invariably we cannot bring ourselves to pay the high cost of doing so. From books all we seek is to give ourselves unlaboured pleasure: or if we do study, pursue only those branches of learning which deal with self-knowledge and which teach us how to live. This is the winning post towards which your sweating nag should canter. Never bite your nails or use the whip when you come across difficult passages in your reading: after making a charge or two, let them be. Nothing worthwhile is done without some gaiety: persistence and too much intensity dazzle the judgement, making it sad and weary.


(with thanks to Eugene Dubnov for the llama)