Commentators view Alice Munro's Nobel Prize as helping to drive a renaissance in the short story. Here's a reading list on the literary form.
The internationally acclaimed Canadian author Alice Munro has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. The 82-year-old is only the 13th woman to be honoured by the Swedish Academy; her daughter woke her during the night to inform her that she had joined a list that includes T S Eliot and Samuel Beckett.
Munro is widely regarded as the world’s greatest exponent of the short story. And it’s this specialism – in short stories, rather than novels – that many thought would prevent her being awarded the Nobel.
“I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art,” said Munro on hearing of the award. Now, literary commentators view her award as helping to drive a renaissance in the form. So, when the subject of short stories comes up at your next dinner party, are you prepared?
• The modern short story is commonly held to have a father in Anton Chekhov. Chekhov’s stories of the 19th-century Russian middle class are moulded from a spare, unflinching realism that eschews moral judgement and often turns on nothing more than an internal psychological change or realisation: the famous Chekhovian epiphany. Go to The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories to read the stories of Chekhov’s late period.
• It’s a testament to Munro’s great reputation that she is often spoken of in the same breath as Chekhov. Her stories of small-time lives and quiet epiphanies in rural Canada – Munro’s signature story is that of a girl coming of age and coming to a new sense of herself – owe a debt to the Russian master, not least in their prevailing atmosphere of quiet, wry despair. Of Munro’s 14 collections, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, is regarded as the best.
• So where now for the short story? Munro has spoken of retirement, so we can’t be sure of a post-Nobel collection from her. Instead, turn to the best of the next generation. The Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri writes both novels and short stories, but her short-story collection Unaccustomed Earth – which centres around the experiences of Indian immigrants to the US – is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of contemporary fiction in recent years.