The short story is an incredibly powerful form. If you’re not convinced, consider this: Hemingway once won a bet that he could come up with a complete novel in six words. What did he write?
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”
Short stories do a lot with a little; their brevity can take your breath away.
Best of the UK: Classic short stories
“The Story of the Brazilian Cat”
From Tales of Unease by Arthur Conan Doyle
Best known for his creation, Sherlock Holmes, but in fact a prolific writer of short stories, Arthur Conan Doyle is an internationally loved master of the form. “Tales of Unease” shows Doyle at his best. “The Story of the Brazilian Cat” is the stand-out story here, full of intrigue and danger. The tale follows a man-about-town who visits his eccentric cousin hoping for financial assistance, but ends up dicing with death.
Listen to more Arthur Conan Doyle stories in audiobooks here
From Dubliners by James Joyce
Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories which details the lives of ordinary Irish folk in the early twentieth century: their joys, hopes and sorrows. “The Dead” is probably the most iconic story of the collection, following Gabriel Conroy, who attends a festive party with his wife. In this beautifully wrought short story, Gabriel has an epiphany about life and death as he watches the snow fall over the city.
Listen to Dubliners in audiobooks here
By Charlotte Gilman
First published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper has entered the canon as one of the most important short stories ever written. Presented as a collection of journal entries by a woman suffering from depression, The Yellow Wallpaper documents her spiral into psychosis as a result of isolation and under stimulation. The Yellow Wallpaper looks unflinchingly at loneliness and mental health, making it a powerful read.
Listen to The Yellow Wallpaper here
The Best Contemporary Short Stories from the UK
From This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
British novelist Jon McGregor shows off the best of the short story form with this audacious collection. Known for taking formal risks and his playfulness with language, McGregor’s stories are tales of the unexpected, but firmly rooted in real life. “Wires” is the stand-out story here, where everything is not what it seems, though the entire collection has been critically lauded.
The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith
Ali Smith has steadily been making a name for herself in the UK as a novelist and short story writer. Bold and imaginative, stories like “The Child”, which sees the writer suddenly owner of a baby she insists is not her own, combine the mundaneness of life with the absurd, to ultimately make a searing political point.
Best of South Asia
From In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Muennudin
Pakistani-American author, Daniyal Muennudin interrogates social hierarchy and poverty in Pakistan, in his striking collection of stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. The book contains eight inter-linked short stories which follow the privileged lives of the Harouni family and its employees. “Nawabdin Electrician” follows the Harouni’s electrician, Nawab, who uses cunning to outwit systemic inequalities and protect the futures of his thirteen children.
“This Blessed House”
From Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter of Maladies is the debut collection of short stories by the now very well established novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri. Exploring universal themes such as loss and failure through the prism of life in India, the stories speak to people’s resourcefulness and resilience. “This Blessed House” looks at the hasty marriage between 27-year-old Twinkle and Sanjeev, the vice president of a corporate company. This unpredictable story about an unusual couple captures the complexities and contradictions of life in a way that is truly special.