Well, I’ve had a blast reading through this year’s Costa Short Story Award shortlist. The journey has taken me among other places, from a logger’s camp in British Columbia to a sheep farm in Australia, via a basement workshop in Ireland and an apartment in the Iranian city of Tabriz. It’s been a cosmopolitan roller coaster ride, and with my feet now firmly planted back on terra firma, I thought I would summarise the shortlisted stories, and reveal who I think is worthy of this year’s £3,500 winner’s prize.
Firstly then, here’s a summary of my reviews of all of this year’s shortlist, with links leading to individual reviews:
- Still Water, BC – “Altogether an accomplished story, and one that turns out memorable for a number of reasons.” – Rating:
- The Forgiveness Thing – “..a very dialogue driven tale, that appears to have more hidden between the lines than in the words themselves.” – Rating:
- The Gun Shearer – “..a hugely satisfying story, that’s every bit as polished and as engaging as any I’ve read.” – Rating:
- The Keeper of the Jackalopes – “A straightforward and engaging story, told with much panache and creativity.” – Rating:
- The Old Man and the Suit – “Reeking with Chekhovian undertone, this tale is as beautiful as it’s melancholic.” – Rating:
- The Papakh Hat – “A rather poignant story, that pays tribute in some small way not only to those who suffered during the revolution in Iran, but to those who stood by their convictions.” – Rating:
So that’s a rundown of my reviews of this year’s Costa Short Story Award shortlist, and what must be clear to all is that I’ve got three stories in the running for top position. And from these three I have to choose a single overall winner…*sighs*…which is no easy task, you know.
All three of the stories that have taken top points from me are worthy of taking the prize, and all for very different reasons. The Gun Shearer is beautifully told, and it comes with an ending that’s unforgettable. The Keeper of the Jackalopes stands as a perfect lesson in straightforward yet inventive storytelling. And, The Old Man and the Suit is just beautifully Chekhovian, in every sense of the word. Which to pick? Well, as good as The Keeper of the Jackalopes and The Old Man and the Suit are, it’s The Gun Shearer that I just can’t shake from my head. There’s a particular act of symbolism in the story that has left something of an imprint on my brain – always one of the ‘holy grails’ that the writer seeks in short form – and so for this reason I’m choosing The Gun Shearer as my overall winner.
Now, with my choice of winner announced, I thought as the shortlist for the Costa Short Story Award is presented anonymously that I would have a stab at guessing the gender of each author. I’m sure to be wrong with every one of these guesses, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise nonetheless, especially when so few literary awards have entries judged upon anonymously. So here’s what I think (and we’ll find out for sure after voting closes on 17th January):
- Still Water, BC: Male (I found it tough deciding on this one but I went male in the end, mainly because the logging camp in this story is so testosterone oozing – even if it has to be in order to make the story work).
- The Forgiveness Thing: Female (there’s a certain intimacy in this story that strongly suggests that it was written by a woman).
- The Gun Shearer: Female (again, there’s a particular intimacy in this story – even stronger than with The Forgiveness Thing – that suggests a female author).
- The Keeper of the Jackalopes: Male (the relationship between father and daughter in this story is such that it feels as though it were written by a man).
- The Old Man and the Suit: Male (another difficult one to work out, but I went for male solely because of the dominance of male characters).
- The Papakh Hat: Male (this one could be written by a female but my intuition is very much pointing towards a male writer).
So, it’s over to you now I guess. Remember that voting on this year’s Costa Short Story Award shortlist closes on 17th January, so you still have plenty of time to read (or listen to) all six shortlisted stories and cast your own vote if you haven’t done so already. If you haven’t then I hope that my own views haven’t swayed your decision in any way. I have simply posted reviews of each story and my choice of winner solely to open a dialogue on this year’s shortlist.
Now that this dialogue is open I hope very much that you’ll pass on your own thoughts and impressions of the shortlist, and perhaps reveal your own choice of overall winner. Any other thoughts or comments then please leave them below.