The quarter century or so before the outbreak of the First World War saw an extraordinary boom in the popularity and quality of short stories in Britain. Fuelled by a large new magazine readership and vigorous competition to acquire new stories and develop the careers of some of our greatest writers, these years were ones where the normal rule-of-thumb (novels sell, short stories don’t) was inverted.This was the era of Sherlock Holmes, of Kipling’s most famous stories, of M. R. James, Katherine Mansfield and Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’.
The stories in David Constantine’s fifth collection all orbit around a moment of personal crisis, a pressure point where the weight of the past or the present becomes unbearable. These crises may be brought on by a bereavement, a personal failure or trauma, or a crisis of identity. But in all cases, what’s at stake is a life worth living.