With public voting in the Costa Short Story Awards closing tomorrow (Wednesday 24th January) I thought now would be a good time to offer up some thoughts thoughts on which story I think is most deserving of the overall prize.
If you’ve been keeping up with RobAroundBooks this past week then you’ll have seen me gradually working my way through the shortlist of six anonymously presented stories. If you have been following progress then I’m sure you’ll have also seen how generally impressed I’ve been with all of the offerings. Granted, four of the six stories may have an element of death to them and there may not be anything in the shortlist for sci-fi or fantasy fans, but the stories are I think, wide-ranging enough to appeal to most tastes, and especially to who love literary fiction.
Before I go on to reveal which of the six stories in the shortlist I’ve decided to cast my final vote on, I’ll offer up summaries of my afterthoughts for each story (links lead to fuller reviews):
- Don’t Try This at Home – “As soon as I started reading this story, the bizarre short fiction of Blake Butler and Kelly Link came to mind, but without the magical fantasy element that is so omnipresent in the fiction of Link. Overall, a mildly entertaining tale, but one that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.” – Rating:
- Dislocation – “An interesting little story, made all the more so through the author’s clever use of famous artwork. Tightly engineered, with a nice little surprise waiting for the reader at the end, Dislocation is one of the better stories I’ve read in recent months. Highly recommended!” – Rating:
- Millie and Bird – “All in all a well constructed tale, but given the subject matter i.e. kids living day to day with an alcoholic parent, I’d have expected more emotional charge. The author instead chooses to take a more subtle approach, and while this works it only does so to an extent. In all honesty, I think this story needs to be stretched out to novel length because I think there is still a lot of mileage to be found in every one of the characters” – Rating:
- Mown Grass – “A thoroughly entertaining story that gives an impression it was penned by William Trevor. The characters are brilliantly sketched, the storyline is engaging, and all in all this tale just feels as though it’s been engineered by a meticulous craftsperson.” – Rating:
- Small Town Removal – “An affecting tale that not only captures the feeling of ‘small town’ beautifully, but also the melancholic and unsettled atmosphere that always hangs in the air in the hours before a funeral. An accomplished creation.” – Rating:
- Trompette De La Mort – ” I found this entire story to be disturbing, but something about it compelled me to follow it through to the end. Fans of Edgar Allen Poe will undoubtedly love it.” – Rating:
I think it’s clear from my ratings alone that there are two in the shortlist that stand out as winners for me. Mown Grass, with its slow moving yet engaging pace, stands as an example of considered storytelling at its best. And Small Town Removal, which is as equally engaging but in a different way, demonstrates just how well a skilled writer can capture mood, creating something palpable from that which is unseen and untouchable.
Perfect stories both of them, and rating them equally has made it all the more difficult for me to separate them and choose an overall winner. But separate them I must, and thinking about what I enjoy most in a short story and taking into consideration constraint and how much I admire a writer who can make a short story seem more than it is, my overall vote has to go to Mown Grass. The story just has the feeling of something bigger and more all-embracing.
So there we have it, my choice of winner for the first ever Costa Short Story Award. All we have to do now is wait until next Tuesday (29th January to be precise) to find out who’s officially won, and whether the voting public think the same as I do :). Just as exciting, we will also get to discover on this day exactly who authored each of the six stories in the shortlist. I’ll tell ya, it’s going to be a relief finding out because not knowing has just about killed me :).
In all seriousness though, I’m pleased that the organisers of the Costa Short Story Award decided to judge all stories anonymously and present the shortlist in the same way. It’s meant that everything has been rated on merit alone, and the mystery of not knowing the authors has actually proven to be one of the highlights of reading these stories, for me.
I thank the organisers and the judging panel for the work and effort that they have put in to this inaugural short story award, and for giving short story fans a rare opportunity to dictate the outcome for themselves. I wish all shortlisted authors the very best of luck for next Tuesday, whoever they might be :).
Finally, over to you my fellow short story lovers. Did you manage to read any of the stories in this year’s shortlist? Which are your favourites? Do you agree with my choice of Mown Grass as the the overall winner? Let me hear your thoughts in the usual way.