David Malcolm. 2012. the British and Irish Short Story Handbook

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David Malcolm. 2012. The British and Irish Short Story Handbook. Wiley-Blackwell: Singapore.

The British and Irish Short Story Handbook provides a rich and dense treatment of short fiction writing and its development in Britain and Ireland. This new volume represents a further development of David Malcolm's A Companion to the British and Irish Short Story. Malcolm's earlier study, dated 2009, provided a comprehensive treatment of the short story in Britain and Ireland as it developed from the 1880s to the present. It included a discussion of genres, as well as chapters on individual texts and authors, and an examination of women's writings, gay and lesbian writings, and short fiction by immigrants to Britain.

The author's new volume, published in 2012, is a very interesting and useful handbook, rigorously divided into five parts. The first part presents a brief but dense history of the short story, first in Britain, then in Ireland. The rise of the modern British short story, and of the British short story tout court dates around 1880, a convenient opening date to mark its beginnings, while the last decade of the nineteenth century was crucial for its development. Malcolm underscores a difference in the lines of development of British and Irish short stories, although these lines are sometimes difficult to differentiate. He also points out that the number of Irish writers who have produced substantial work in short fiction over the past fifty years is much more impressive than one could have expected.

The second part deals with basic issues in short-story studies, i.e.: the question of short story definition; whether it can be considered a genre or a higher-level category; the position of short stories in the context of other texts, and the meaning of such position for their interpretation; and, last but not least, the idea of the short story as principally concerned with the representation of marginal characters, or "submerged population" groups. Frank O'Connor, an Irish short stories writer, has suggested that in these the reader often finds the presence of outlawed figures, wandering about the fringes of society. That explains why the short story flourished in the context of an unstable, fragmented, isolated, traumatized world, such as that of nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland and Great Britain.

Another important issue analysed by David Malcolm is the seminal topic of canonicity. For Ireland the question is whether the short story is integral to any discussion of Irish literature; in Britain, where the short story has been almost ignored and underrated by critics for a long time, the debate has focused on the non-canonicity of short fiction. The short story was a booming form in Britain in the 1890s, in the inter-war period, and during the Second World War, but commentators have mostly neglected it, if not ignored it altogether. On the contrary, the Irish short story has always been taken seriously by critics, as the most popular of all literary forms with both readers and writers. …