Short Story Review: The Gun by Mark Haddon

Story Title: The Gun by Mark Haddon
Collection/Anthology?: First published in Granta 119: Britain. An audio extract of this story, read by its author, can found on the Granta website
Briefly: A week until the summer holidays end and Daniel is feeling the most bored he’s ever felt. The day is about to change however, when he visits his friend Sean in the tower blocks near his home.
Afterthoughts: What a truly remarkable tale from Mr. Haddon. There are stories which come along every now and again that for whatever reason you never forget. This for me is one of those stories. Not only is the storyline gripping and engaging, but the story itself is just so well told. The whole thing revolves around an event; a single moment as Haddon explains, where time forks and fractures leaving one facing a split in the direction that one’s life could take. The central event of this story is one of four ‘extraordinary events’ that Daniel will experience in his life. The other three are listed, kind of future retrospectively, and they are all as equally outrageous and affecting.

What fuels The Gun is tension. The story is dripping with it, but then there’s the vivid imagery, which borders on the spectacular, and this drives the story along too. Factor in the empathy that one invariably feels for the main character, who is fundamentally a good kid mixed up in a situation he finds hard to cope with, or at least in no position to make any full sense of, and it all makes for an exhausting yet unforgettable reading experience.

Notable quote: Sean tugs at the pine handle of the wardrobe and the flimsy door comes free of the magnetic catch. On tiptoe Sean takes down a powder-blue shoebox from the top shelf and lays it on the khaki blanket before easing off the lid. The gun lies in the white tissue paper that must have come with the shoes. Sean lifts it easily from its rustling nest. Scuffed pigeon-grey metal. The words REMINGTON RAND stamped into the flank. Two cambered grips are screwed to either side of the handle, chocolate brown and cross-cut like snakeskin for a better grip.

Rating: ★★★★½

*What the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award judges said about this story: Andrew Holgate – ‘It has such grip, such narrative drive and such a sense of time and place and teenage anxiety, and you read from beginning to end totally absorbed by the increasingly fraught situation of the central character.’

EFG Short Story Award This story was read as part of an overall review of the 2013 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award shortlist. For further details of the award and the stories to be found on the shortlist, please visit the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award section on the Booktrust website.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).