Today, I’ve decided to recommend a few of my favourite short story collections. You’ll be able to tell that, as with longer-form fiction, I have a tendency to lean towards the darker side of things, and think it’s a tone that is, in fact, particularly well suited to a short story. Each of these collections contains individual stories that I think stand on their own merits, but which also combine with the others to create one cohesive work that blends well together.
The Doll by Daphne du Maurier
Ah, my beloved Daphne; mistress of intrigue and atmosphere. Several of the stories in this collection have stayed with me so vividly, including some with deliciously sinister undertones, and a couple that follow a woman who has fallen into a life of crime and prostitution, narrating her life to us like a poignant and enigmatic dramatic monologue. Being some of her earliest work, the stories show her brooding talent as a writer, and try out several different tones and themes, from light-hearted to down-right creepy, meaning it’s a great sample of how diverse she can be.
Sweet Home by Carys Bray
This collection of stories tackles all the big themes; love, loss, life and death. Most are grounded in reality and show quiet glimpses into the beauty and pain of everyday life (like an elderly woman dealing with the early onset of dementia; a helpless couple watching their son spiral into the grip of drug addiction; and a man suffering from OCD who is terrified that he’ll kill his own unborn baby), whilst some flirt with a sense of magical realism and fairy tales. All, however, offer insight into the sad struggles of everyday family life.
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
Though they all stand on their own, the stories in this collection are all very cleverly connected in subtle ways, with characters from one re-appearing in others, sometimes in surprising ways that add new meaning to previous stories. There’s a sense of melancholy and the macabre throughout, with Ogawa exploring the hidden darkness that lurks beneath the surface of many people’s lives, with characters including a mother who buys a cake for her dead son every year on his birthday; an elderly woman with a dark secret buried beneath her vegetable patch; and a dissatisfied young woman who fantasises about torturing her boyfriend.
A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan
This is another collection of connected short stories, but with a bit of a twist. Between each of the stories is the ongoing narrative of two women awaiting the birth of their first child, taking turns to tell the baby tales that mask important truths about the world, having vowed never to tell the child a lie. The stories themselves are the tales they tell their soon-to-be-born baby, and they have a whimsical, fairy tale-esque feel, with Logan taking inspiration from folklore, and crafting what is essentially a love letter to the power and importance of storytelling.
There we have it. As always, I encourage you to share your own recommendations in return, so what are some of your favourite short story collections?