CategorySunday Story Society

The return of Sunday Story Society


Last year, I started an interactive feature on the blog called Sunday Story Society, where I invited people to come and talk about a short story in a comment thread. I put the feature on hold when I moved house, but it went well as a whole and I have always wanted to bring it back.

So that’s what I’m doing now.

Taking inspiration from Strange Horizons’ Short Story Snapshot series, I’m making a few changes. Sunday Story Society will now run monthly, on the first Sunday of each month. The stories will still all be freely available online, but I want to concentrate on new stories (at least for the time being), so I will be looking at stories published during in the previous month. I’m also going to be writing more of a review of each story as a starting point.

I’m not going to plan ahead of time what I will cover: there could be any type of story; the author may or may not be well-known. It will depend entirely on what I see that interests me and that I think will make for a good discussion. I’ll post a notice on the blog a week or so beforehand.

So, if you’d like to join me, we’ll kick Sunday Story Society 2.0 off on Sunday 1 September with a look at “Meet the President!” by Zadie Smith, from the New Yorker. See you then!

Sunday Story Society hiatus

We’re only in the middle of the run I had planned, but I am putting the Sunday Story Society on hold temporarily. The reason is that I’m in the process of moving house, so my internet access will be disrupted; but I can’t be sure at the moment when or for how long that will happen. As I don’t want to be organising a regular blog event if I can’t guarantee to be available to host it, I’m suspending the feature for now, and will bring it back when I’m in a position to run it regularly.

You can visit the Sunday Story Society page on this blog to access our previous discussions and sign up for an email alert when the Society is back up and running. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has taken part – I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Sunday Story Society: “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring”

To keep up to date with the Sunday Story Society: view our schedule; follow @SundayStorySoc on Twitter; or visit us on Facebook.

Today we’re talking about “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring” by M. John Harrison, a story which became the foundation of its author’s 1996 novel Signs of Life. To kick off, we have an extensive response from Nina Allan, which I’ll quote only in part here:

You could almost say that ‘Isobel’ is MJH in microcosm […] It bears many ur-Harrison trademarks: gaunt cityscapes in decline, disenchanted individualists in terminal disconnect mode, intimations of the marvellous. The language of the story manages somehow to be both resolute and dissolute, a gradual persuasion of the drab towards incandescence.

And here are some initial thoughts from me:

When I read this story, I still had the experience of Viriconium very much in mind; if that series moves towards the destruction of fantasy-as-escape, I see “Isobel Avens” as doing something similar. Of course, there’s Isobel’s dream of flying, which cannot be realised; and the fantastical surgery, which is no magic solution. But I also think this is a great portrait of an exhausted relationship: empty conversations; Mick Rose’s constant calls for the reader to “imagine this”, as though his relationship with Isobel happened to someone else. And there are some superb lines: “The years I lived with her I slept so soundly” – I love how equivocal that sentiment is.

So, what did you think?

Sunday Story Society reminder: “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring” by M. John Harrison

Another Sunday Story Society session is coming around, and this time  we have a piece by Viriconium author M. John Harrison up for discussion. The story in question is “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring”, which you can read here at Infinity Plus. Then join me here on Sunday, when I’ll have a discussion post up.

Sunday Story Society: “Drifting House”

On the table today, we have Krys Lee‘s story “Drifting House”, which you can read on the Granta website here.

It’s the title story of Lee’s debut collection, which has been reviewed in various places, including: The Daily Beast (by Anna Clark); Sul Romanzo (by Monica Raffaele Addamo) The Short Review (by Elaine Chew); Korea Joongang Daily (by Bart Schaneman); Pop Culture Nerd (by Thuy Dinh); The Guardian (by Kamila Shamsie); The Telegraph (by Andrew Marszal); The Financial Times (by Sung J. Woo); NPR Books (by Heller McAlpin); The San Francisco Chronicle (by Marie Myung-Ok Lee); Editorial Eyes; Of Books and Reading; The Brunette Bibliophile.

And here are a couple of interviews with the author, at The Rumpus and The Economist.

Conversation Starters

A couple of questions you might like to consider:

What do you think of Lee’s use of landscape in the story? Is this more than just a physical journey for the brothers?

How well does the structure of “Drifting House” work for you?

Next time: on 14 October, we’ll be discussing “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring” by M. John Harrison. See the full schedule.

Sunday Story Society reminder: “Drifting House”

This Sunday, I’ll be hosting a new short story discussion on the blog. Our choice this time is the title story of Drifting House, the debut collection by Krys Lee, which is published by Viking in the US and Faber & Faber in the UK. One of the other stories in the collection, “The Goose Father”, has been shortlisted for this year’s BBC International Short Story Award.

But it’s “Drifting House” that we’ll be talking about this weekend’ You can read it here at the Granta website, and there’ll be a discussion post up here some time on Sunday.

Sunday Story Society: “Two Ways of Leaving” by Alois Hotschnig

Today we have our first story in translation: “Two Ways of Leaving” by Alois Hotschnig (translated from the Austrian German by Tess Lewis). You can read the story here at Untitled Books; you’ll also find it in Hotschnig’s Peirene Press collection Maybe This Time.

First, I’ll link to some reviews of Maybe This Time (not of all of which touch on this particular story): 1streading; Chasing Bawa; Olivia Heal; Andrew Blackman; Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat; The Worm Hole; The Arts Fuse. I’ll also point out this interview with the translator, Tess Lewis, at Love German Books.

Now, something different. I’m going to post some questions as ‘conversation starters’; feel free to answer them or not (I want them to act as jumping-off points, not to strictly define the discussion), or ask questions of your own. Here we go:

Conversation Starters

There’s no small amount of ambiguity in “Two Ways of Leaving”, so I’d be interested to know how you interpret the relationship between the ‘he’ and ‘she’ of the story.

My abiding thought when I finished Maybe This Time was that Hotschnig’s protagonists were caught up in other people’s stories. Would you agree with that in relation to “Two Ways of Leaving”?

Though it relates to a different piece in Maybe This Time, I was struck by 1streading‘s comment that “Hotschnig is playing with the use of the pronoun ‘he’ as a ‘character’”. What does the author do with the pronoun ‘he’ in this story?

Next time: On 30 Sept, we’ll be talking about the story “Drifting House” by Krys Lee.

For now, though, it’s over to you. What did you make of “Two Ways of Leaving”?

Sunday Story Society reminder: “Two Ways of Leaving”

From this Sunday, you’re invited to join me on the blog to talk about Alois Hotschnig’s story “Two Ways of Leaving” (translated from the Austrian German by Tess Lewis). The story is taken from Hotschnig’s fine collection Maybe This Time, published by Peirene Press. It was one of my favourite pieces in the book, so I’m looking forward to the discussion.

You can read “Two Ways of Leaving” online here at Untitled Books; then come back here on Sunday when I’ll have a discussion post up.

Sunday Story Society Reminder: “The Merchant of Shadows”

The Sunday Story Society returns this weekend; this time around, we’ll be talking about Angela Carter’s story “The Merchant of Shadows”. You can read it here on the London Review of Books website, then head back to the blog on Sunday where I’ll kick off our discussion.

Sunday Story Society Reminder: “Atlantic City”

Sunday Story Society time is coming around again; this week, we’ll be talking about “Atlantic City” by Kevin Barry. The story is available to download here as a PDF from Thresholds, the University of Chichester’s International Short Story Forum.

“Atlantic City” is taken from Kevin Barry’s first collection, There Are Little Kingdoms (2007), which won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Barry has since published a novel, City of Bohane (2011); and a second collection, Dark Lies the Island (2012). One of the stories from the latter, “Beer Trip to Llandudno”, won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.

Head back here on Sunday, when we’ll compare notes on “Atlantic City”.

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