The Penguin book of the contemporary British short story | Philip Hensher (ed)

These edited short story collections are like getting paint tester pots. You take a bunch home and pretend you’re going to be really open-minded and consider all sorts of possibilities and maybe find something surprisingly gorgeous that you never expected to work. But really you knew what you would and wouldn’t like all along, and you were right.

I started writing a mini-review of each story – a plan I quickly abandoned. Instead my review of this collection on Goodreads was my first one-worder.

That word was ‘meh’.

There were no surprises in this collection. The authors I knew all ran true to form (apologies, authors, for comparing you to racehorses and your work to pots of paint.) I generally enjoyed the stories by authors I would generally expect to enjoy (Jackie Kay, Ali Smith, Rose Tremain, Jane Gardam, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Sarah Hall). I disliked the stories by the authors I dislike (Martin Amis, Wilf Self.) (Actually I didn’t finish either of them, and to abandon a short story is pretty damning – but such is my dislike.) There were meh stories by authors I rate as meh and the rest were varying dergrees of meh also.

However, it was worth reading for Ali Smith’s wild multidimensional ride, The Universal Story, which was pure genius. But the Penguin Book of Confirmation Bias there otherwise. Sozz.