Short Story Saturday?

So based on my research (google, five seconds ago), ‘Short Story Saturday’ is already something of a book blogger thing in some parts, so I don’t know if I will make it my thing as I don’t usually read a lot of short stories, but I found two collections of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories in a secondhand bookshop today and let me tell you, they are bliss. Especially the ones in Bliss and Other Stories. (See, didn’t I tell you?) And I’ve ordered some Persephone short story collections for my birthday which I am eagerly awaiting, so who knows.

I like the idea of writing about a few short stories at a time because it breaks it down, I don’t have to digest a whole collection of them at once, forgetting half the good bits and overthinking what I’ll write about. It also allows for reading pauses, which are sometimes very necessary. Short stories also seem a good change of pace for me right now because I’ve got so many new books and library books about the early 20th century and don’t know where to start! I greatly enjoyed my cosy comfort reads, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Miss Buncle’s Book, but was starting to want something a little different.

And here is Katherine Mansfield suddenly appearing in the bookshop today (I went there because watching a Miss Marple mystery last night made me want to read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters which I then didn’t buy due to Katherine Mansfield appearing and being better), still early 20th century and quite possibly ready to outshine Virginia Woolf, at least for me. Although she seems like she might have more in common with Elizabeth Bowen, they both capture a certain kind of loneliness. Virginia Woolf is a more social author I think.

I’m most familiar with Mansfield’s stories in The Garden Party (‘Miss Brill’ was a short story my first university English prof brilliantly discussed) and I also finally got a volume of that today, but Bliss and Other Stories was all quite new to me and somehow even better than any I’d read before.

Here are a few bits from ‘A Dill Pickle’:

‘…And there is another thing about you that is not changed at all — your beautiful voice — your beautiful way of speaking.’ Now he was very grave; he leaned towards her, and she smelled the warm, stinging scent of the orange peel. ‘You have only to say one word and I would know your voice among all other voices. I don’t know what it is — I’ve often wondered — that makes your voice such a — haunting memory. … Do you remember that first afternoon we spent together at Kew Gardens? You were so surprised because I did not know the names of any flowers. I am still just as ignorant for all your telling me. But whenever it is very fine and warm, and I see some bright colours — it’s awfully strange — I hear your voice saying: “Geranium, marigold, and verbena.” And I feel those three words are all I recall of some forgotten, heavenly language. … You remember that afternoon?’

‘Oh, yes, very well.’ She drew a long, soft breath as though the paper daffodils between them were almost too sweet to bear. Yet, what had remained in her mind of that particular afternoon was an absurd scene over the tea table. A great many people taking tea in a Chinese pagoda, and he behaving like a maniac about the wasps — waving them away, flapping at them with his straw hat, serious and infuriated out of all proportion to the occasion. How delighted the sniggering tea drinkers had been.

“…the warm, stinging scent of the orange peel” — how perfect.

I also read ‘Je ne parle pas francais’, about a narcissistic Parisian convinced he’s a dashing writer, man about town and possibly something of a gigolo who meets up with an Englishman “making a special study of modern French literature.” The ending is unexpected and quietly heartbreaking. Here is the beginning:

I do not know why I have such a fancy for this little cafe. It’s dirty and sad, sad. It’s not as if it had anything to distinguish it from a hundred others — it hasn’t; or as if the same strange types came here every day, whom one could watch from one’s corner and recognize and more or less (with a strong accent on the less) get the hang of.

But pray don’t imagine that those brackets are a confession of my humility before the mystery of the human soul. Not at all; I don’t believe in the human soul. I never have. I believe that people are like portmanteaux…

I sat outside in our car reading this while my husband got a few groceries, the sun shining in as I slouched in the seat, putting my feet up out the window, sipping on an iced coffee, a perfect early summer reading moment.

6 thoughts on “Short Story Saturday?

  1. Study Window says:

    I am definitely not a short story reader, but I read Katherine Mansfield as an undergraduate and loved her. Do try and get hold of a copy of her letters and journals as well. They throw so much light on her life and state of mind, which in turn really illuminates what she was writing about.

    • Carolyn says:

      I’m tempted by Persephone’s edition of her journal, but will wait at least until I’ve read the stories! She has more breadth in her writing than I was expecting, it would be interesting to find out, as you say, what she was really writing about.

  2. Helen says:

    One of my personal goals for 2010 was to read more short stories, though I haven’t made much progress with this so far. I was intending to read at least one short story every week and post my thoughts every Saturday, but unfortunately I just haven’t managed to do that. I haven’t read any of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories yet, but your post has made me want to try some as soon as possible – thanks!

    • Carolyn says:

      Oh good. Katherine Mansfield is so insightful and lovely, all very quickly. And more accessible than Virginia Woolf. I would be interested in any short stories you do post about, now I’m trying to see if I have any more I’m interested in reading, maybe some by Denis Johnson and Elizabeth Bowen…

  3. Sarah says:

    I’ll have to try some Katherine Mansfield – I love short stories, and those excerpts make her style seem so elegant and beautiful.

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