Courtesy of Private Eye, we learn that Philip Hensher has stirred the possum (as we rustic Aussies like to say) with his selection, or non-selection, of stories for the recently released 2-volume Penguin Books of the British Short Story, in which he makes what Private Eye calls “disobliging remarks” about authors who receive “fashionable approbation” but weren’t even on his shortlist. He even names Hilary Mantel, making slighting remarks about her Margaret Thatcher story (we didn’t like that either). Other notable omissions are Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Kelman, Salman Rushdie, Graham Swift, Rose Tremain, Sarah Hall, A. L. Kennedy, Hanif Kureishi, David Mitchell, Will Self and Fay Weldon.
Gert was left scratching her head as to who had made it into Hensher’s good books, so she trotted off to do some research and found this article in The Independent. And it’s quite a gallery, from Swift, Defoe and Dickens through to Christine Brooke-Rose, Angela Carter and Zadie Smith. Other big names are Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Muriel Spark and V.S. Pritchett. Most interestingly of all, Hensher has included stories from “the heyday of the commercial magazine story of the 1880’s to 1990’s” preferring these “artists of everyday life” to luminaries like Virginia Woolf.
The Independent raises a mild eyebrow at Hensher’s approach:
Hensher knows how to lay on a grand spread. Equally, he can slam the door without a word of contrition. So enjoy the feast – and there is so much to enjoy – but spare a thought for all those disinvited guests…
Rashly, the blurb-writer claims “permanent authority” for this eclectic, entertaining, partisan collection. Worse, Penguin lets Hensher get away, in his biographical notes, with a self-indulgent cabaret of gags and anecdotes in place of useful data.
It actually does sound pretty irresistible. A Christmas present for your literary best friend? Hours of harmless fun as you argue about who should be in and who should be out. Maybe even some book throwing?
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