Short fiction: a literary snack

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Image Description: A person reading a book over lunch

This week, Sarah Moorhouse asked OxStu contributors to tell us about their favourite pieces of short fiction.  Perfect to enjoy over breakfast or a quick tea break, these compelling reads will transport you away from a dreary lockdown lifestyle.


Helena Aeberli: Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse

Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse goes down like a glass of fresh orange juice and intoxicates like wine. It chronicles the reminiscences of indolent Parisian teenager Cécile.  Bonjour Tristesse tells of her carefree, bohemian lifestyle and its turning point when her playboy father decides to remarry.

The events that follow grant Cécile an awareness of the sorrows of the adult world for the first time; she is forced to greet sadness.  Sensory, sensuous imagery fills the pages.  Sagan’s language evokes the heady heat of the French Riviera and the tempestuous emotions that sea-salt and beating sun can inspire.

Sagan’s portrait is of a slender segment of society: the idle rich.  It toes the line between revulsion and pathos.  She explores the external and internal selves of characters, and how the two sometimes fail to align. This is a book set in the physical and emotional worlds, and both are beautifully depicted. Bonjour Tristesse is the perfect novella to read this summer as you bask in your own puddle of languid sunshine.

Sagan’s language evokes the heady heat of the French Riviera and the tempestuous emotions that sea-salt and beating sun can inspire.


Tryfonia Mitsopoulou: Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes

The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami, is a collection of seventeen short stories which were published over the course of the 1980s. Murakami’s writing has a characteristic dream-like quality to it.  His magic realist depictions make for thoroughly entertaining – yet slightly unnerving – reads.

A personal favourite is “On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”.  It reads somewhat like a folktale, and is simultaneously witty, romantic, and sad. This collection also includes “Barn Burning”, an eerie yet engrossing read which was adapted into the critically acclaimed film, “Burning”.

These stories are a form of escapism with a surrealist, creepy twist.  This might resonate with you at a time where it can feel as though you’re trapped in a piece of bad dystopian fiction.


Oscar Jelley: Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud A Solitude

My current breakfast book of choice is Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud A Solitude. Originally self-published in Communist Prague to avoid censorship, the story is told in fewer than 100 pages.  The narrator is Hanta, a kind of autodidact simpleton who has worked a hydraulic press for the last thirty-five years of his life.

His job consists of pulping paper waste, including classic works of literature.  However, Hanta seems to spend most of his time guzzling pints and gorging himself on the writings of thinkers like Hegel, Nietzsche and Lao-tze. As a result, the often very funny picaresque episodes are overlaid with melancholy wisdom.  The description of Hanta’s walk home in a book-induced trance is a touching image of the transporting power of literature.

The blurb declares it a celebration of “the power and the indestructibility of the written word”.  This doesn’t seem like a bad way to start a day. It goes well with boiled egg and soldiers.

The description of Hanta’s walk home in a book-induced trance is a touching image of the transporting power of literature.


Josie Moir: Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen

Kitchen, for me, is the embodiment of “short but sweet”. Only 150 pages, it feels like a single glowing window in the night.  It is so comforting and enchanting in its cinematic quality that it holds you captive from beginning to end.  In two short stories, Yoshimoto follows the lives of two young women coping with grief and loneliness.  She also explores a whole host of modern struggles with warmth and empathy.  On a broader scale, the work is simply about being human.

Though it may not sound like light reading for your tea break, Kitchen has such a wonderful atmosphere that it makes the perfect one-sitting read.  Though profound, it is never heavy, rather simply a beautiful reminder of human strength. For anyone feeling lost, lonely, or just in need of a distraction, Kitchen is the perfect novel to take you somewhere which is far away, and yet ever so close to home.

Image: Kaboom Pics via Creative Commons 

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