Humiliations

Michael Irwin

  • Collected Short Stories by Kingsley Amis
    Hutchinson, 303 pp, £6.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 09 143430 0
  • World’s End by Paul Theroux
    Hamish Hamilton, 211 pp, £6.50, October 1980, ISBN 0 241 10447 5
  • Packages by Richard Stern
    Sidgwick, 151 pp, £5.95, November 1980, ISBN 0 283 98689 1
  • Oxbridge Blues by Frederic Raphael
    Cape, 213 pp, £5.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 224 01871 X
  • The Fat Man in History by Peter Carey
    Faber, 186 pp, £4.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 571 11619 1

In the introduction to his Collected Short Stories Kingsley Amis strongly implies that the genre is not at present in a healthy state. He claims that subsidisation by the Arts Council, or other such bodies, of the magazines in which short stories often appear, fosters self-indulgence. Certainly this is a term that came to my mind more than once when reading the works under review. For the novelist, experimentation is both demanding and risky, in that his whole enterprise may go haywire and prove unsaleable. The short-story writer is enabled, whether by subsidisation or merely by the brevity of the form or by both, to experiment without commitment. This would be fair enough if the unsuccessful experiments were scrapped. But several of these collections, including Amis’s own, have been topped up with sketches or squibs that scarcely pay their way. It is plain, too, that certain of these stories are founded upon the doings of minor cultural celebrities of the moment, and that a large part of the pleasure proposed relates to the reader’s desire or ability to identify the real-life writers or actors who are being burlesqued, represented or glanced at. Should not works of this kind merely be circulated in manuscript round the small metropolitan group that might find some fun in them?

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