The Best British Short Stories 2011
 Ed. Nicholas Royle

Salt Publishing

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"By the time they arrived at their destination, they could no longer recognize their own name."

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

For a fan of short fiction like me, a book entitled Best British Short Stories 2011 was incredibly attractive, especially because the stories have been selected by a distinguished editor and writer such as Nicholas Royle. My expectations, however, might have been a bit too high. Don't get me wrong, the volume includes several truly excellent tales, but they account for only nine out of twenty stories, namely slightly less than fifty per cent (which, according to my personal criterion as a reviewer, means an anthology has not passed the text). But "each to his own", so never fear, brave reader, you may find yourself perfectly happy with some of the stories which failed to either impress or interest me. My privilege as a reviewer, however, is to single out from the rest of the volume those which seem to me the best stories.

First of all I want to mention Slut's Hair by John Burnside, the excellent portrait of an unhappy marriage, the problems of which are revealed in an indirect way by petty events such as a toothache or the discovery of a little mouse in the house.
The tooth had been bothering her all day, and that was why she told Rob about it. She hadn't wanted to and she knew it was a mistake telling him anything, but then everything she did these days was a mistake, and she couldn't go on forever, day and night, being careful what she said and, at the same time, not seeming to keep things from him, because that made him angrier than anything else.
Another winner is Bernie McGill's No Angel, a gentle ghost story where a deceased father shows up occasionally to visit his daughter and offer his advice.
The first time I saw my father after he died, I was in the shower, hair plastered with conditioner, when the water stuttered and turned cold.

Dinner of the Dead Alumni by Adam Marek is an offbeat ghost story set in Cambridge, while Flora by David Rose is a delicate story about botany, painting and the melancholy of life. Philip Langeskov contributes Notes on a Love Story, the compelling description of a love affair ingenuously told in the format of a very short text with a number of exhaustive and illuminating footnotes. Foreigner by Christopher Burns is a sad story of war and death, remorse and regrets, told in a quiet way and with a perceptive view of life's gloomier side.

In Hilary Mantel's Winter Break the ordinary report of an ordinary taxi ride toward a resort place turns unexpectedly into a horror story,
The taxi driver leaned into the car to scoop up the second bag. As he did, he nudged aside the tarpaulin, and what she glimpsed and in the same moment refused to see - was not a cloven hoof but ...
When the Door Closed, It Was Dark by Alison Moore effectively describes how an English girl working abroad  as a baby sitter gets engulfed by a dark, menacing atmosphere of loneliness and dread,
At the top of the staircase she... opens the door with her free hand. She steps in the bright hallway and pulls the door to behind her, and when the door closes, it is dark.
In the moving Epiphany by Salley Vickers a woman on a death bed is visited by her former husband while their son discovers the truth about their marriage history,

Was it simply that she made a mistake? Sent away a man who loved her and then regretted it?
It appears that this is the best that 2010 had to offer in terms of short stories produced in the UK.  Honestly I can't say this is quite true (I remember a bunch of stories much better than those included in this anthology) but the idea is certainly good and hopefully the next volume will offer better material.

Read a story from this collection in Southword

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Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorworld.
Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

"Null Immortalis anthology"

Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"

Rosalie Parker "Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales"

Michael Kelly "Undertow and Other Laments"

Gwen Davies (ed) "Sing Sorrow Sorrow"

Alice Perrin "East of Suez"

Bite-Sized Horror

Robert Aickman "Cold Hand In Mine"
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Authors  Alan Beard, Christopher Burns, John Burnside, SJ Butler, Robert Edric, Philip Langeskov, Heather Leach, Kirsty Logan,  Hilary Mantel, Adam Marek, Claire Massey, Bernie McGill, Alison Moore, Michele Roberts, David Rose, Leone Ross, Lee Rourke, Dai Vaughan, Salley Vickers    

Editor Nicholas Royle is the author of several collections of short stories, two novellas and five novels (the more recent being Regicide, from Solaris). In addition he has edited fourteen anthologies and runs Nightjar Press, a small imprint devoted to short stories and chapbooks. He lives in Manchester, UK.