Well, this year’s Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award was announced a little earlier today, and being in the position of having read all of the shortlisted stories I thought I would offer an opinion on who I think is going to win the prize overall.
Before I go on to reveal which of the six stories I think is going to win, I thought I’d offer brief summaries of all of my reviews for the shortlisted stories, together with ratings and links to my individual reviews for each one:
- The Beholder by Ali Smith – “This is the kind of story that one has to read half a dozen times to get the gist of, but even then one is often left scratching one’s head. There is nothing wrong with this of course – it’s what makes fiction more an artform than anything else – but it’s not the kind of story that’s for everyone. least of all me.” – Rating: 3/5
- Call it “The Bug” Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title by Toby Litt – “I found this story to be refreshingly original, while at the same time being quietly tender. Thoughtful and clever.” – Rating: 3.5/5
- The Gun by Mark Haddon – “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.” – Rating: 4.5/5
- Evie by Sarah Hall – “Don’t get me wrong here, Evie is an accomplished piece of writing I guess, but personally I found it to be so explicit that it reached a point of being repellent to me.” – Rating: 2.5/5
- The Dig by Cynan Jones – “Full marks to the author Cynan Jones for this story. It’s unforgettable, and stands as a perfect example of how a good short story should be written.” – Rating: 4.5/5
- Miss Lora by Junot Díaz – ” Miss Lora is the kind punchy and direct tale that one expects from Junot Díaz. It offers itself as a great introduction for those unfamiliar with this writer’s unique culturally-enriched style of fiction.” – Rating: 3.5/5
So, that’s a summary of my reviews of each story in the shortlist. It’s clear from just glancing that I have a couple of stand out favourites, but before I go on to discuss which should take the overall prize, I’d like to say something of the shortlist as a whole.
There’s no denying that this year’s shortlist is wide-ranging and diverse. Even with the shortlist containing mainly ‘household names’, which is a slight disappointment, it even manages to remain brave because the subject of half of the stories on this shortlist could be considered controversial, or at least far from run-of-the-mill.
I was most shocked by Sarah Hall’s story, Evie. It’s as explicit a story as it’s likely to get, and certainly not something I’d expect to see on a shortlist for one of the world’s richest prizes for short fiction, yet it kind of deserves its place, not least because it’s a powerful tale that challenges the reader. There are reasons too why the story is so overly pornographic, and while I may have felt more than uncomfortable reading it – which is undoubtedly the author’s intention – there are many out there who will undoubtedly love it.
I can’t say that I was all that taken by Ali Smith’s story The Beholder, either. Again, it’s a very clever story but, as is often typical with the fiction of Ms. Smith, it’s deeply ambiguous in meaning. Don’t get me wrong I like a complicated story just as much as the next man (I like Blake Butler and Kelly Link for God’s sake :)), but of the six shortlisted stories this one just didn’t hit the mark with me as some of the others did.
So, which stories did hit the mark? Well, emerging as candidates for the top prize are two stories where tension and testosterone reign supreme. Cynan Jones’ story The Dig, which follows a lad on his first badger hunt is exquisitely well written. Not only does the story nail exactly what it’s like for a boy trying to make his way in a man’s world, it captures the countryside in vivid and splendid detail. The subject matter is a controversial one, and Mr. Jones plays up to it magnificently, while maintaining a completely non-judgemental stance.
The other stand out story of the shortlist for me is Mark Haddon’s The Gun. Although I’ve read and enjoyed Mr. Haddon’s longer fiction in the past, I’d never read any of his short stories before. This was my first time, and boy what an inauguration into the short fiction world of Mr. Haddon. The Gun is pretty near damn perfect; one of those rare short stories you read and never forget. The imagery, the tension, the plot line – all indescribably precise and wholly affecting.
I remember when I was about ten, the same age as Daniel the main character in the story. I befriended a lad at school who unbeknown to me was from one of the roughest hard nut families in the area. I went to this lad’s home a few times and I remember just how awkward, scared and ‘out of my league’ I felt around this family. Their lawlessness and lack of respect for one another shocked me, and left an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. Mr. Haddon’s story brought all of this back to me, and more.
So, two stories which I both rate the same and which in my mind are as equally magnificent. Which should take the top prize? Well, I think I’m going to go with Mark Haddon’s The Gun. I’d certainly love to see Mr. Jones take the top prize for being the least well known author on the shortlist, but Mr. Haddon’s story just takes it for me for being the one story out of the two that is likely to live on in my head for the longest. In terms of everything else, there is absolutely no separating them. Both stories are a triumph.
Of course we’ll all have to wait until next month now (Friday 22nd March to be precise) to see who takes the top prize. I wish all of the shortlisted authors the very best of luck. Meantime, you can keep up with all of the award chatter by hooking up with the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award on Twitter, and by following the #STEFG13 hashtag
And dear reader, if you manage to read through the shortlist yourself (an ebook of all short stories is available for purchase for Amazon) then please come back and tell me which of the shortlisted stories you think is worthy of top prize. I’d love to know what you think.