Only connect.

Harriet phoned.  ‘I’m afraid we’re losing one of the group.  She said she’d read three of the stories, and they were just too depressing.  Are there any cheery ones in the anthology?’

K. by Lajos Csaki‘Well,’ said Vickie.  ‘It depends what you mean by cheery. There are several comedies.’

‘She says she doesn’t like P.G.Woodhouse.’

‘Okay,’ said Vickie.  ‘Has she tried…hmm, what sort of thing do you think she’s looking for?’

‘I don’t really… something up-beat, I suppose. I had a quick look through myself, but, well, I see what she means, in a way.  They’re not what I expected.  Are there any happy endings?’

‘Ah, I see what you mean now.  One or two, certainly.  Maybe more, depending on your point-of-view.  They’re not exactly about the endings, though… Hello, Harriet?  Are you there?’

telephone girl‘Yes, yes, still here.  Surely the ending’s important?’

‘Oh yes.  It’s important, very important.  But so is the beginning, and the middle… and mostly, the bit that comes after you’ve read it and thought about it for a while.  That might be the most important part of all.’

‘Really?’

‘Definitely.  After that happens you might decide to go back and read it again.’

‘Might I?’

‘I hope so.’

‘But will I like it?’

‘Good question.’

 

*Top photograph: K. by Lajos Csáki

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What else is there to know?

‘Are you teaching the first world war now, then?’ said Eric, as he helped me gather up the papers I’d scattered across his kitchen table while I was child-minding.

Book cover‘Well I was,’ I said, ‘earlier in the autumn… in a way.  We were discussing short stories about the first world war. It’s a course I don’t get to do very often, which is a shame.  It’s such a great anthology, and I can’t seem to persuade many groups to do it, even though next year will be the anniversary of the armistice.’

‘I suppose,’ said Eric, ‘there are so many books and diaries from those times that there’s not much need to read more on the subject.’

‘Oh, but stories aren’t exactly about the knowable facts,’ I said.  ‘We don’t talk individual battles, or much about the trenches.  These are imaginative responses to experiences.’

‘Everything’s been said, though, hasn’t it?’ said Eric.

I paused, as always struggling to find a way to explain the joys of cracking open a short story, when not actually discussing a specific example.  ‘Do you think so?’ I said.  ‘There are so many ways it impacted, not just on the people who were at the front, but at home, then and later.’

‘Maybe,’ he said, as he walked me to the door.

I know that ‘maybe’.

Eric reads a lot.  He likes history, biography and novels and I share some of that taste, so sometimes we swop books.  He’s not a great talker though.  If I ask, ‘What did you think?’ he uses one of three basic responses: ‘it was okay’;  ‘that one was a bit of a struggle’ or ‘I got a couple of pages in and couldn’t be bothered’.