It’s BBC National Short Story Award time again, and they’ve kindly sent me an copy of the shortlist anthology, so I can do a story-by-story blog of the list. I’ll be going through each of the five stories, before the winner is announced on Tuesday. It’s been a good few years since I’ve done one of these, so I’m excited to get started…
First up, Jonathan Buckley’s ‘Briar Road’, which begins with its narrator observing the house she’s about to visit. If I’m honest, some of the imagery here feels a little too crisp and studied (“Every sill gleams like milk”); but this woman’s occupation and purpose eventually justify her narrative voice. She is a psychic, come to help a family whose daughter has gone missing; the way she describes it, her talent is like picking up traces that others wouldn’t notice in the manner of someone with a more acute sense of smell or taste, so it’s only natural that she should be finely observant, and her voice rather measured.
‘Briar Road’ is a story of familial tensions being revealed, albeit in an understated way. The trouble for me is that, on the one hand, I find it short on ambiguity (although Buckley doesn’t spell everything out, you can infer pretty clearly); but, on the other, the sheen of the prose creates a distancing effect which lessens the story’s emotional impact, despite its directness. I find ‘Briar Road’ fine as it goes; but I would have wished for more.
Listen to a reading of ‘Briar Road’
Anthology details (Foyles affiliate link)
The BBC National Short Story Award 2015, Comma Press paperback