BBC Short Story Competition 2013

I listened to all the entries for this on the radio. (You can listen to them all here, probably UK only). I found, listening to stories told on the radio, it was much harder to decide about literary style, since what I am listening to is an actor’s interpretation of the literary style, which I suspect makes it sound better than it actually is. Since style (or, at least, whether I consider a story to be well written in stylistic terms, irrespective of content) is usually my main judgement about literary works (or, at least, a sine qua non of a worthwhile story), I feel a little hesitant still to offer judgement on these stories.

But here are my judgements notwithstanding.

Mrs Fox, by Sarah Hall: (see previous post) Since so much of it is taken from another story, without any particular improvement, I don’t really see why it should win. (If it does, I shall enter next year my idea for a story about a man who wakes up to find him transformed into some sort of beetle). Interviewed Hall said she was modernising the story: which apparently consists of removing any sympathy from the male character, turning it into an obvious (if somewhat dubious) allegory, and larding everything over with sexuality. (Fox does not play cribbage in this version either).

Barmouth, by Lisa Blower: This was a somewhat typical piece of British “art” – see all literary fiction and all British indie cinema. A miserable group of people having a miserable time shouting at each other and crying and their relationships fall apart. Others have highlighted how the narrator grows up during the course of the story (is, say, 8 at the beginning, and is 40 by the end); this is put forward as some sort of experimentality, but Obooki did not notice it very much, or think it anything particularly to be admired – in fact, the narrator didn’t seem to grow up very much at all; and Obooki thought maybe the story would have been better told by the narrator’s sister. Why choose the dullest character to tell the story? (A: Because that’s what you do in literary fiction).

Prepositions, by Lionel Shriver: This is a rant about the victims of 9/11 and why everyone thinks they are so special, disguised as a short story. Shriver cleverly disguises this in the form of a letter from female friend to another (have we seen this before anywhere?). As is the way with Shriver, this letter-format gets the better of her: not so much in this case because her writing doesn’t match the notion of a letter (I think in this case maybe it does), but because these two people are supposed to be friends; and yet you come away from the story wondering how two people could ever be friends, when one of them seem to be filled with obsessive hatred, bitterness and lack of compassion towards the other. (Of course, we don’t hear anything from the other friend – perhaps she doesn’t exist, it would at least explain the tone of the story).

Notes from the House Spirits, by Lucy Wood: I liked this story best and think it should win. It is just an account of the various people who come to live in a rented property, told from the point of view of the property’s very judgemental house spirits. It doesn’t really go anywhere or have anything to say, but it was interesting and amusing, and had a nice sense about it. You could imagine it in a collection by Clarice Lispector and Luisa Valenzuela (but I don’t really know why). There was a repetitive refrain in it which reminded me of Jospovici (but not quite as irritating).

We Are Watching Something Terrible Happening by Lavinia Greenlaw: Not sure I really understand how this story fits together: it just seems a long rambling story about a disintegrating relationship, meteorites and a civil war. The meaning of it all is too subtle and escapes me. (Perhaps if I read it, it would make more sense).

So there you are. The theme is clearly collapsing relationships between people: it is the basis of 4 out of the 5 stories, and I suppose you could even drag Lucy Wood’s story into that idea too. So that’s what we’re interested in in 2013.

Winner to be announced a week Tuesday.

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2 thoughts on “BBC Short Story Competition 2013

  1. Yes, I’ll be reading through my collection of Chinese classics, seeing what to adapt for next year. The one about the man who goes and lives in an ant colony in his back garden appeals to me.

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