Thursday, 27 May 2010

Woman's Hour Book of Short Stories (ed. Pat McLoughlin)

--The blurb--
"The Woman's Hour Book of Short Stories brings together eighteen of the best stories by women writers featured on Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Their theme is 'aspects of love' in the broadest sense, the first innocent awakenings of desire rubbing shoulders with a more mature, sometimes harrowing, kind of love."

--The review--
While female and feminist causes and organisations can perhaps, at times, become objects of ridicule and negative stereotype, there is certainly plenty of positivity to still be found in a female-centric approach. One of these rays of light comes in the Woman's Hour collections of short stories, of which this one (ISBN 0563209054) is the second of three. One could argue that the attraction to short stories has waned (surprising given the nation's apparently decreasing attention span) due to the decrease of serialisation in newspapers and magazines and the greater attraction towards longer, drossier novel series, as well as an increase in the affordability of televisions and DVDs, which pull the public away from the printed word altogether. However, all is certainly not lost for this particular sector of literature: Roald Dahl is perhaps the most famed short story writer for adults, and there is plenty in this marvellous compendium to delight and amuse readers, reminding us that there is still a mass of talent to enjoy and discover.

The first story is one that especially sticks in the mind, detailing a young woman's crush on a celebrity of the period. Its attention to detail means that it is engaging, and the story's premises are equally transferable to modern readers (that's if the fact that the book was published in 1990 renders it no longer 'modern'). Ruth Rendell's work is always enjoyable, although Alice Walker's contribution was disappointing. The best tale to grace this collection, however, is perhaps written by one of the oldest contributors: Celia Dale, aged seventy-eight at the time of the book's release, illumines the book's contents with her sinister and Dahl-esque "Coming South", which is exquisite in the conciseness of its craft and has the potential to take any first-time reader's breath away, making one wonder why this author is so little-known despite having published more than ten books between the 1940s and 1980s. Readers are therefore reminded in perusing such a selection of the enormous potential that there is for the discovery of talent within such pages that is new to us and which might therefore open a whole new world to us.

As a result of reading this extremely polished and high-quality collection, I am incited to acquire more short story collections. Variety is, after all, the spice of life, and it is thanks to such compendia that our lives as readers are fuller.

Other Woman's Hour collections
Woman's Hour: Joyce Grenfell to Sharon Osbourne - Celebrating Sixty Years of Women's Lives (non-fiction; 2006)
Woman's Hour Christmas Collection (2001)
BBC Woman's Hour Book of Health (non-fiction; 1998)
Woman's Hour Poetry: The 50th Anniversary Collection (1996)
The Woman's Hour Book of Women's Humour: The Century's Funniest Female Writing (1993)
The Woman's Hour 50th Anniversary Short Story Collection (1996)
Woman's Hour: 50 Years of British Women (1996)
The Woman's Hour Book (1981)
The BBC Woman's Hour Book (1957)
The Book of Woman's Hour (1953)
*several Woman's Hour Short Story collections are also available on audio cassette.

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