CategoryForna Aminatta

BBC National Short Story Award: Conclusion

So, that’s the entire shortlist blogged. The first thing to say is that the judges put together a very good list; certainly I wouldn’t begrudge any of the five stories their place. David Constantine was the winner, but, for me, it would come down to a choice between the stories by Aminatta Forna and Jon McGregor. And, much as I appreciate the subtlety of McGregor’s psychological portrait, I think the elegance and economy of Forna’s telling gives her story the edge.

Aminatta Forna, ‘Haywards Heath’ (2010)

Years (at least thirty, at a guess) after graduating, Attila is a successful doctor with an international reputation. During a spell in London as a visiting consultant, he hears the name of Rosie, an old flame he hasn’t seen since his university days. Discovering that she has taken early retirement, Attila decides to look Rosie up; but, on arriving at her old hometown of Haywards Heath, he finds that the woman he knew has been taken by early-onset dementia.

Only two stories into the shortlist, and already I disagree with the judges. Forna leaves the events of her plot to speak for themselves, and I find the clean understatement of her telling more affecting than Constantine’s denser treatment of his theme. In addition to the portrait of Attila’s witnessing what has happened to Rosie, there’s the elegance of having Haywards Heath represent both Attila’s success (the town’s name was always difficult for Rosie’s overseas friends to pronounce, but now Attila says it perfectly) and Rosie’s decline (any success she had in her career has gone with the arrival of her illness, and she has returned home). In all, this is a very nicely realised piece.

The BBC National Short Story Award 2010

Tomorrow is National Short Story Day; to mark the occasion, I’m blogging the shortlist of this year’s BBC National Short Story Award – namely, these stories:

David Constantine, ‘Tea at the Midland’
Aminatta  Forna, ‘Haywards Heath’
Sarah Hall, ‘Butcher’s Perfume’
Jon McGregor, ‘If It Keeps On Raining’
Helen Oyeyemi, ‘My Daughter the Racist’

The above titles will turn into links as I make my way down the list.

What I won’t be doing, however, is trying to predict the winner, because that was announced at the end of last month. David Constantine’s story was declared the winner; as it’s first on the list, I’ll be interested to see what standard it sets for the rest.

EDIT, 21st Dec: I’ve now written a concluding post in which I pick my winner.

Further links
Podcasts of the shortlisted stories
The Award at BBC Radio 4
The Award at Theshortstory.org.uk
Booktrust, which administers the Award
Comma Press, publishers of the anthology

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