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31 March 2011

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Pamela Johnson

Your last point is well made - commercial pressure - certainly with UK publishers. Let's hope the success of the likes of Strout, Vann and Egan will make them think they're missing a trick!

Thanks for reminding me to check out Jennifer Egan. I'm still catching up after my trip to the States, but I found an interview with her on Radio 4's Open Book, she says interesting things about writing, I plucked a quote from that and have just posted it as the new quote of the week from Egan. The link to the interview should still be live.

Are some writers better in the short form? I'm not sure that has to be so. I'm thoroughly enjoying Colm Toibin's new collection, The Empty Family, each one seems to pack a novel in a few pages, and yet he's had most success with novels.

Kellie Jackson

That's a good question. I'm not sure there's a neat answer though. As you say, life is messy and episodic. Memory & experience is subjective and this is what 'Olive Kitteridge' explores so well. While the linked short story form serves Elizabeth Stout's voice so effectively here - could she have delivered all this in a novel? Probably - as she's such a talented writer but the outcome would be a totally different animal. Thinking about David Vann's 'Legend of a Suicide' - a series of short stories on a related theme versus his latest novel 'Caribou Island' (dominated by the same theme) - I wonder if the short story form suits some writers better than others? This is a different issue but I wonder how much commercial pressure is placed on new writers in particular to abandon the short story and produce long fiction?

Pamela Johnson

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look out for the Jennifer Egan. I think this form is really interesting. Been thinking about it a lot since reading David Shield's 'Reality Hunger' - his challenge to novelists - too in thrall to 'plot'. Both Elizabeth strout and, by the sounds of it, Jennifer Egan, are exploring parts of the whole, perhaps with more 'authenticity' so that the cumulative whole feels more rich. Is dramatic story form more convincing over the short form than the longer form of the novel, in terms of the reader feeling in the presence of a lived life rather than a cardboard cut-out? Life is messy and episodically dramatic. Perhaps we readers engage quickly with intensely and authentically rendered incidents and don't mind filling in gaps between? So linked short stories feel more a reflection of the lived life than the novel? I'm still thinking about this, what do you think?

Kellie Jackson

Hi Pam. Sounds like a good read. I'm in Devon on hols and in need of a new reading book. You got me with, 'Is it a novel or a collection of short stories?' I just finished reading Jennifer Egan's, A Visit From the Good Squad - beautifully written but episodic - each chapter could stand alone as a complete story. But works brilliantly as a whole too. From a writing point of view such books spur me on. All the best, Kellie

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