Day 305 to 312/17th December to 24th December – Tales for Christmas from the Guardian Short Story Podcast

Of the twelve available I listened to the following:

Philip Pullman reads ‘The Beauties’ by Anton Chekhov

One of my favourite Chekhov stories, read by one of my favourite authors. Pullman in his commentary describes it as ‘a story in which nothing happens, twice,’ which it is, but it is also a story in which nothing happens twice, beautifully.’ I love Chekhov. This examination of beauty and the longing and separation from it we sometimes feel is one of his best.

William Boyd reads ‘My Dream of Flying to Wake Island’ by JG Ballard

Ballard is one of those authors that I should have read more from and haven’t yet. This story went a bit over my head. Probably due to my listening to it while shovelling the truck loads of snow that have been deposited on the drive over the Christmas period. I got the feeling that this is a story more suited to reading on the page than listening to. Left me cold (and not just because I was out in sub-zero temps listening to it) but inclined to give Ballard more of a fair go next time I ‘read’ him.

Anne Enright reads ‘Fat’ by Raymond Carver

Beautiful reading of one of my favourite Carver stories. I love the way the narrator of this story slowly shuffles towards revelation, telling her story within the story without awareness of what it might mean or why she is telling it until the rhyme and reason is revealed in the crippling emotional realisation of the last line. Enright’s reading is sensitive yet powerful, her Irish accent wholly suited to conveying Carver’s oeuvre.

Margaret Drabble reads ‘The Doll’s House’ by Katherine Mansfield

Wonderfully astute and compelling exploration of the social hierarchy of its period. Mansfield’s perfectly drawn characters show us the social landscape through an intensely personal story that concludes with a simulataneously heartbreaking and uplifting moment. Brilliantly read by Magaret Drabble.

Jeanette Winterson reads The Night Driver by Italo Calvino

A story as engaging intellectually as it is emotionally. Calvino reduces the characters in this love triangle into terms within an equation and love into a logic problem to which the only solution is not to find one. Clever and touching, this story examines the way in which we love and how we become the sum total of our actions. The backdrop of a lonely drive along a motorway serves to heighten the narrator’s insecurities. On the basis of this I will be seeking out more Calvino.

Julian Barnes reads Homage To Switzerland by Ernest Hemingway

A triptych of stories set in separate stations along a stretch of rail track through Europe. Each story opens in the same way, with the same descriptions and dialogues but unfold differently as the different characters of the travellers waiting in the stations are revealed. Moves from humorous and shocking through reflective and into compelling. An interesting story from one of the truly great authors. A timely reminder that I need to spend a little more time reading my complete collection of Hemingway’s short fiction.

Ali Smith reads Conversation with my Father by Grace Paley

Beautiful exploration of our relationships with our families and to fiction itself, drawn through Paley’s description of a simple conversation with her dying father. I can relate to this story, having shared many such conversations with my father as he fought the cancer that finally killed him. There is something uplifting in Paley’s irresolvable problem of relationships and fictions creating an immortality. Another writer I need to find out more about.

Helen Simpson reads The Kitchen Child by Angela Carter

Stories set amongst the serving classes in some priviledged English past are not generally my cup of tea but I fell a little bit for the humour and playfulness of this piece. The extended metaphor of the food and the delicacy with which a child’s hunger to know the truth about his father is handled kept me listening. Never been tempted to read much of Angela Carter before but after listening to this I have a sense that I have been missing out.

The full list of twelve podcasts can be found here. I will be dipping into the remaining stories at a later date, nestling as they are on my iPod.

Day 313 to 315/25th December to 27th December – 3 stories by Leonid Dobychin

Russian author of short fiction and a single novel, ‘The Town of N,’ best known for the lyric nature of his prose. The three stories I read, ‘Medical Auxillary,’ ‘The Father’ and ‘Please Do,’ are short shorts that paint detailed but brief pictures of Russian life in the early part of the Twentieth Century. No surprise that ‘The Father’ is my favourite of the three, with its tender portrayal of the difficulities of being a single-father. A writer who’s work I plan to explore once I have finished ploughing my way through the richness of Chekhov’s prose.