As I sell academic books I am approaching my busiest time of year so I was delighted with C B James' idea for a Short Story September. Time-wise I daren't let myself get too lost in a large book at the moment and short stories are the perfect solution. Normally I prefer a novel length prose work, but at the moment short stories are just right. I haven't read many since I finished my first degree 13 years ago, though I used to enjoy writing about short stories very much. I loved the real overview you can get at the same time as, in the best stories, details that you can almost touch. It is like both looking at an ornament and being able to pick it up, and turn it round in your fingers.
If you want to join in C B is running a multiple-prize book draw for the occasion and you get more entries the more short stories that you review, either on your blog in in the comments section of his blog. You can read the full rules here but you need to scroll about half way down the post.
In Katherine Mansfield's title story "Bliss", Bertha is 30 years old living an upper middle class London life of servants and dinner parties. She has a husband, Harry, and a daughter Little B. The story is written in Mansfield's painterly style with due attention to colour and form; close focus on objects give an insight into emotions which can be crisp or angular or fluid but are never fussy. Her preparations for her dinner party for example show Bertha's oddly rich focus on the irrelevant, highlighting her naivety.
There were tangerines and apples stained with strawberry pink. Some yellow pears, smooth as silk, some white grapes covered with a silver bloom and a big cluster of purple ones. These last she had brought to tone in with the new dining room carpet. Yes, that did sound rather far fetched and absurd but was really why she had bought them. She had thought in the shop: 'I must have some purple ones to bring the carpet up to the table.' And it had seemed quite sense at the time.
She sees the fruit in all its details but cannot see her relationships with her husband, or her child, or her friend Pearl, at all clearly.
Childish herself, Bertha is playing at dinner parties, and admits her frivolousness: "What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss - absolute bliss - as though you had swallowed a piece of that late afternoon sun..."
Like all Mansfield's work "Bliss" is a very pleasurable read that also seems superficially an easy read; you can take from it as much or as little as you want. Great when you're tired: you enjoy a coffee and a Katherine Mansfield, and hours or days later bits of it keep popping back into your head as the images stay with you. Great too for teaching or book groups as you can discuss the symbolism endlessly. In a very grey September here in the UK it is great to read a writer who uses colour so warmly.
Bliss and Other Stories is no longer in print as a complete collection it seems, but the story 'Bliss' is in the Oxford World Classics Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. The vagaries of Amazon's catalogue declare this edition to be in French, but honestly it is not!