Article published on November 18, 2017.
Here are Paul Burke’s picks for the ten best short stories ever written:
1. The Dead by James Joyce – The best short story ever, you could spend months studying its meaning. Incidentally, all the other stories in this collection, The Dubliners, are brilliant too. I hope they still teach this in school.
2. Dushechka by Chekhov – I could have picked any one from a number of his stories; Chekhov is possibly the best short story writer of them all. So sharp on the frailties of humanity, life and death, and being rich doesn’t save you!
3. The Destiny of Nathalie X by William Boyd – A film maker wins an award in Nigeria and gets on a plane to Hollywood with his muse. Their adventures are very funny. I re-read this because it makes me laugh.
4. Three Elegies for Kosovo by Ismael Kadare – Three stories really, about the history of the Balkan tragedy. Do you want to know why the history of that part of the world is so tragic? Here’s your answer.
5. Self Defence by Ferdinand Von Schirach – From his collection of stories, Crime. Stories of real incidents in German legal history that have been fictionalised. They are all good, but this story of getting away with murder is haunting.
6. American Parmesan by Wu Ming – A story about cheese and regulations; what’s not to like? I kid you not, it’s riveting stuff.
7. The Secret Dead by S.J. Parris – A story about Giordano Bruno, scholar, spy, mathematician, theologian and, in 1600, victim of the fire. Parris is one of my favourite historical writers.
8. Rashomon by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa – A cautionary tale of the dispossessed.
9. Maître Mussard’s Bequest by Patrick Suskind – How to get the origins of life entirely wrong but exhibit a kind of crazy logic in doing so. It’s very funny.
10. The Basement Room by Graham Greene – A young and innocent boy is exposed to the adult world and left scarred for life.
Of course, having to choose only ten meant that I missed off stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Alice Munro, Anaïs Nin, Road Dahl, W. Somerset Maugham, A.S. Byatt, Joyce Carol Oates…
Are there any other fabulous short stories that you favour? If so, you can submit your own list here.