The World & Other Places

March 4, 1999

In Jeanette Winterson’s first collection of short stories, we are confronted with characters so at odds with themselves and the world–whether our own, familiar world or one of the author’s invention–that it is difficult to truly empathize with any of them.

The first story, The 24 Hour Dog, is a lullaby of a tale compared to those that follow, yet still manages to leave behind the disconcerting notion that a human being who cannot even take responsibility for a tiny puppy has little chance of survival in the big, bad world.

From the voluptuous The Poetics of Sex, so flush with earthy imagery and erotically charged word-play that the fever of desire rises from the page in an uncomfortable steam, to the frigidity of the Stepford-Wife-like Newton, Winterson spins us around a breathless, off-centre world, leaving the reader dizzy and disturbed.

Why don’t you write more short stories?

The same reason that I don’t write poetry. I need the elbow room of a novel. Not because I want padding – all my life is spent stripping away what’s unnecessary – but because I want to unravel the thought and the emotion in a particular way. I don’t write long books, but I prefer not to write short stories.

But you do write them.

Yes. If I am asked to do it I’m glad to do it. It’s a particular kind of challenge. And you know, in my books there are lots of very short stories – little stones to keep in a pocket. That kind of length, a couple of pages, I really like, it’s the in between size that doesn’t really suit how I work. I think I might put together some mini-stories.

Whose short stories do you like reading?

Somerset Maugham, Chekov, Sarah Maitland, Calvino, Ian McEwan, Ruth Rendell, Helen Simpson, Ali Smith, Blackwood, (those are very old-fashioned), Angela Carter, and of course, the best short stories of all – fairy stories.

Why aren’t the stories in chronological order?

I don’t know about you, but I never read a short story collection in any order, chronological or not. It doesn’t matter when a piece of work was written. What matters is whether or not it’s any good. I wanted to avoid the kind of tedious sub-academic sleuthwork that goes on, piecing together dates and writing and making inferences that just don’t add up. I just want you to read it. Simple. Easy. Yes.

Is this a good book to buy for someone new to your work?

Yes. If they don’t throw it under a train, you can safely move on to something longer.

When I hold you in this night-soaked bed it is courage for the day I seek. Courage that when the light comes I will turn towards it. It couldn’t be simpler. It couldn’t be harder. In this little night-covered world with you, I hope to find what I long for; a clue a map, a bird flying south, and when the light comes we will get dressed together and go…

Paperback March 4, 1999

Publisher: Vintage