OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘She is a major writer’… So says one of the blurbs on the cover of a paperback short story collection. But just what does it mean? I’ve read the collection. I enjoyed it. It purports to show, in chronological order, the ‘collected’ works of a single writer (if you’ve been reading the blog recently you might guess who). I didn’t think there were any great stories in it. None of them took my breath away, like some by other writers have:  by their sleight of hand (A Canary For One), their clever plot twist (Weep Not My Wanton), their unexpected ending (A Horseman in the Sky), their poignancy (The Little Farm), their point of view (The Fall), or their uncanny insights (Arabesque-The Mouse). I could (as I’m sure you know) go on! And all those stories I referenced have other qualities too that made me sit up and take note.

But the stories in the collection were enjoyable stories. What made them not ‘great’, and made me wonder in what sense their creator was ‘major,’ is perhaps more to do with me, than with them. They were written from a class perspective that is so far removed from my own, in both time and place, that it’s hard to relate to, or care about. More than that, the narrators and characters in the stories are never pushed, to revelations, reactions, and perceptions that match any of the heightened emotions in the stories I’ve cited. I got no sense of tragedy. There was none of Aristotle’s pity or terror, for me, in these stories. Could that too, be something to do with the distance in time and space from my world of the world in which they sit? In fact none of them are any further away than the other stories I’ve cited. If an urgency or desperation has been lost it has been lost in the same time frame as that in which the other stories have retained it. In fact, Bierce, who wrote A Horseman in the Sky, had been dead –we now know – for almost a decade by the time the first of the stories in the collection I’m writing about had been published.

One story stood out from the rest, but only in that it was different from them. It was not different from stories in general.

The cover blurb says also – ‘she is what happened after Bloomsbury….the link that connects Virginia Woolf with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark’. And I realise that I have no idea what that means, any of it! That this is a limitation in me, I have no doubt, but might it also reveal something about the ‘ownership’ of literature, and in whose hands the ‘gift’ of words like ‘major’ once lay?

I don’t know if people enjoying popular culture – whatever that is, or has been – discuss it. I know I talk with people about what I’ve been reading, and they with me. There was a time, when for discussions of that nature to be printed, they needed to be between people who were of a certain class, whatever the subject of the discussion. It was, in any given discussion, and probably still is, and rightly perhaps so, that the writer was of importance to the people doing the discussing that made the writer ‘major’, however minor, in the wider world, they might have been.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA