The Octopus Nest, a short story by Sophie Hannah

imageFor my final short story this week I went for one of my favourite authors, Sophie Hannah. I found The Octopus Nest online at my local library. It’s from a full collection – The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets – and I guess was released as a teased (back in 2008 so I’ve missed it somehow).

In it, Claire and Tim come home to find their babysitter has made a rather strange discovery. The same woman is in almost all their holiday photos for the last decade. Album after album shows the same thing. They have, it seems, a stalker. Or at least that’s what Claire thinks. She might, though, be wrong.

At first I thought this was another spooky story but creepy is more like it. It’s also suspenseful and has a great twist in the tale, one I didn’t seem coming – which I love. It is well written, drawing me in quickly. The characters were well drawn, all through Claire’s eyes, and I felt my nerves stretch as I wondered just what was going on.

As I said, I missed the book this was taken from, but it’s now on order. I can’t wait for it to arrive and hope all the stories are as good as this one. Liked it a lot!

Emma

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A Sheltered Woman, a short story by Yiyun Li

After yesterday’s BBC 2015 prize winner for best short story review, today I read The Times’ 2015 short story winner. Partly because I liked the sound of it but also because I wanted to compare the stories and see if I could hone my short story reading palette. I can’t say I succeeded with the later, though I did enjoy today’s story just a little bit more.

I think that is because it was different – there were no spooky goings on here – but also because it was a subject I know little about – Chinese American culture and I felt like I got a little glimpse into this world though Auntie Mei, a baby nanny.

A baby nanny is one who only stays for the first month of the babies life and takes care of child and mother. Auntie Mei is good at it and in demand – she has looked after 131 babies all told. She doesn’t get attached and she doesn’t linger, moving on as soon as the child is a month old. Her latest job, though, has her thinking it might be time for a change.

As with the other short stories this week, I was amazed by how much Li got into so few pages (16) and how real the character of Auntie Mei felt to me, how well I thought I knew her and her life by the end. She is an interesting woman with an interesting last, one who has made some very non-traditional choices in a pretty traditional world.

Li has a great way with words and painted a really detailed picture of a small slice of life. I have not read anything by her before but definitely will be now! Another well worth a read.

Emma

Briar Road, a short story by Jonathan Buckley

Next up for me short story wise this week, in recognition of national short story week, is Briar Road by Jonathan Buckley.

bbcnssa_2015_logo_webBriar Rose won the BBC national short story award for 2015 and – like yesterday’s The Memory Man – has a supernatural element to it as a psychic tries to help a family find out what has happened to their missing daughter. She visits their house, holds a séance, but can’t give them the answers they want.

I found the portrayals of the family and their reactions to the psychic’s visit very real – each was very different and not everyone’s was what you might expect.  Then there was the psychic herself – I loved her cynicism (“It’s a wonderfully written story, rich on the small details that drew me in.  On first reading, it seemed very simple but there was a lot of emotion here.”).

I can’t say I’m the best judge of a short story, as with all things we like what we like, but I can see why it won – this was a well written story that drew me in quickly and had me caring for the characters within a few paragraphs – something that is hard to do.  Well worth a read.

Emma

The Memory Man, a short story by Helen Smith

23624909Pages: 50

Reading time: about 30 minutes

Making her way through a dark cafeteria in what may well be an even darker warehouse, Sarah comes across Valerie, asleep in a chair and wrapped in a blanket. Next to her, a dead body…which they put in a disused fridge whilst they try to decide what to do.

Neither is sure. It is dark. They are scared. And they have no idea how they got here. No memories at all in fact. Which means they aren’t sure what is outside the door and at the end of the corridor. Valerie decides to try and find out, leaving Sarah alone and afraid, only to come back with strange stories and fragments of memories that may or may not be hers and a name that may or may not be the dead mans.

The where and the why are a nice twist in this story, which was well written with good pace. It packs a lot into its 50 pages. For some reason, I had in my head that it would be a crime story but it is more supernatural and spooky and I liked that. Sarah and Valerie and the Memory Man himself were interesting and there was so much not said, building the tension. I really wanted to know how they had ended up in the room and what would happen to them, which meant that for me, the story ended a little too soon. I would have liked a few more pages and a little more plot. Still enjoyed it though and would recommend to anyone with half an hour to spare.

Emma

National Short Story Week 2015

NSSW-300x171This week is National Short Story week, something I hadn’t heard of – though it’s in its fifth year – until I read about it on Kimberly Sullivan’s blog.  I really enjoy short stories but haven’t read any for a while and so loved the idea of promoting them (now that I’m aware of it!) if I could.

You can find out more about the week here but, in a nutshell, the idea is to promote short stories, and short story writers, publishers and events. It runs from today, Monday 16th through Sunday, 22nd November.  Kimberly is taking part by trying her hand at flash fiction.  I’m nowhere near as creative but I thought I could do my part by reading and doing mini-reviews of short stories every day.

23624909The reading will start tonight with The Memory Man by Helen Smith, which has been on my Kindle for a few months now.

Two women become friends in an abandoned post-apocalyptic building. A psychic makes contact with a lost soul. His apprentice tries to find news of a man he has lost touch with. Fragments of memories are traded and twisted. Friendship provides comfort, but the recovery of memories brings torment rather than reassurance – until truth becomes secondary to survival.

It feels like a fun thing to do and I’m also hoping it might get me out of my reading funk and inspire me to read some new authors. Are you a short story reader – any recommendations for the rest of the week?

Emma