The art of story-telling is not an easy one, and the art of telling a story with the added constraint of brevity is a greater challenge. I have always preferred short stories and flash fiction to full length novels. Not only is the short story is a display of the writer’s creative prowess, but it is also a barometer of the reader’s ability to savour a story. Like a wine taster who can judge based on sip of wine or a good chef who can identify the ingredients based on a bite of food, an experienced reader can read volumes within a short story. Mark Haddon has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The Pier Falls and Other Stories is his upcoming collection of short stories.
The nine stories in this collection belong to a variety of genres. From Victorian adventure to science fiction, to realistic fiction, Haddon’s masterful writing spans all these genres with ease. Inspite of the range, a common thread runs through these tales– the need for human connection. There is a sense of isolation that pervades the pages. The characters in Haddon’s tales all struggle with the opposing needs to both escape from and cleave to others around them; this struggle becomes the story.
Haddon draws heavily from mythology and folk tales to craft these dark tales. In The Island, for example, he draws from Greek legend, to investigate ideas of disloyalty and abandonment. In Wodwo he uses the the collective memory of the “wild man” to debate the impulsiveness and disregard for others, that cause human distances to widen.
The title story The Pier Falls, is one of my favourites. A description of a tragedy, it plays out like a series of photographs. So vivid and well written are the images, that it becomes difficult to believe that one has not actually witnessed this distressing event. Other favourite stories are the The Woodpecker and the Wolf about a manned Mars mission, and Bunny a story about two misfits and their odd alliance.
To quote Haddon, “It seems to me that if you are writing a short story and it is not more entertaining than the stories in that morning’s newspaper or that evening’s TV news, then you need to throw it away and start again, or open a cycle repair shop.” The stories in this collection are immensely entertaining, with a dose of intellectual exercise thrown in.
For budding writers who want to learn to write short stories; and for readers who wish to relish the power of a briefly, but well written tale, The Pier Falls and Other Stories is a must read.
The Pier Falls and Other Stories, published by Doubleday, is forthcoming on May 10th 2016.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.