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Prepositions by Lionel Shriver: BBC National Short Story Award, Radio 4

Picture by Kaysha

Picture by Kaysha

The five shortlisted stories the BBC National Short Story Award have now all been read out on Radio 4.

Just a quick post tonight to let you know about Lionel Shriver’s Prepositions which was read out on Wednesday.

It told the story of a woman whose husband had died on September 11th 2001.  It contrasted her subsequent life with the life of her friend whose husband had died in September 11th.

This was very different from Tuesday’s seaside-set Barmouth.  It was more intense, direct, angry.  At first I didn’t like.  It was a bit… relentless.

But as I carried on listening, I realised it had to be so.  This story was saying that not everyone who died in September 11th was a hero.  But they are treated as such.  While other people who died at the same time are not remembered in the same way. It’s not a comfortable message, unlikely to be popular and so takes bravery to set down on paper.

I thought about how different this American stance was from the four other English stories from this week.

To sum up the catch up:

Monday’s story was about a woman who turned into a fox.  It was too weird for me and I gave up after 10 minutes.

Thursday’s was written from the point of view of the spirits living in a house.  It was an intriguing idea, and unfolded charmingly, but the actual substance of the story was a little thin.

Friday’s story was read by Claire Skinner, whose range I admire every time I see her: as the dungaree clad teenager in Life Is Sweet; as the harrassed mum in Outnumbered; the tense middle aged woman in Stephen Poliakoff’s Perfect Strangers.  Reader aside, I was disappointed with the actual story.  It was a sort of parallel musing on war, space and the disintegration of a marriage and went straight over my head, like one of the meteorites in it.

Of the five stories, my favourites are Barmouth and Prepositions.  Barmouth is more emotionally rounded and fulfilling.  Almost nourishing.  But Prepositions is more searing, more intellectual.  And 100% more memorable than any of the other stories, which made me think of this discussion about the Booker Prize opening up to non-British authors

I do like quirky British stuff, don’t get me wrong.  But do we shrink back too much from creating art that is daring, visionary and single minded?   Should we look towards other cultures for inspiration and try to learn from them, or is this just another form of globalisation that will result in one homogenous pasty mess?

All the BBC short stories and author interviews are available here:

(Images are Creative Commons licensed. Click on picture to see original.)



  1. Have you read any of Lionel Shriver’s work? That’s totally her style – making you really uncomfortable, almost challenging you. But she’s usually right. She’ll make you squirm but you’ll end up agreeing.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for who wins!

    • I read We Need To Talk About Kevin… but sort of “with my eyes closed” ie I skipped a lot of it out. I couldn’t bear to read all of it, it was almost painfully uncomfortable. An intellectual read rather than an emotional one.

      I heard some parts of the serialisation of So Much For That, about the US healthcare system on the radio. That was captivating too, but I wouldn’t have chosen to pick up the book and read it. You’re right, definitely challenging.

      It’s weird comparing these five stories. In many ways, the Shriver story is in a totally different league. But you could argue that it is narrower than some of the others, in order to make its point.

      • Those are exactly the ones that I’ve read. We Need to Talk About Kevin made me SO uncomfortable. And kind of nauseous. The way she always instinctively shied away from Kevin, how manipulative he was and then the end. Oh the end. So horrible.

        I was a basket case when I finished So Much For That.

        The trouble with her work is that it’s harsh. You never really have one character that you really like so it’s difficult to identify with anyone. I never would have read her work but So Much for That was one of our first book club books and after that they told me to read We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’ve heard good things about The Post-Birthday World but I don’t know if I’m ready for more Lionel Shriver!

        She’s a tricky, tricky read.

  2. Although it is an uncomfortable read, I really enjoyed We Need To Talk About Kevin. I did so before becoming a mum, and spoke about the book to a few friends who already were and they couldn’t bring themselves to read it. She doesn’t sugar coat and I like that. Must admit I haven’t been brave enough to watch the film! She has a sizable catalogue which I must explore… Prepositions sounds very intriguing!

    You might like this article I just found:

    • I love reading a good author interview. I like to know their exact rationale and aims, and this was a good interview. Thanks for the link.

      Oh gosh, the film could be awfully difficult to watch. Just thinking about the ending… I really don’t think I could either.

      The most horrible thing about the book was how the mother character was so publicly reviled. When actually some of the ambiguity she felt about motherhood probably flashes across many of our minds from time to time. And the son did sound pretty innately horrible… but was that just filtered through the mother’s view? Etc.

  3. Denise: I changed my domain name to You and Jenny another regular if mine disappeared from my (as Jenny calls it) “daily collage”. So I thought you may have thought I dropped out!

    BTW I l

    • I loved the short story about 9/11!!

      So moving. About true unappreciated altruism ( an oxymoron because true altruism has to be done without expectations. ) but the contrast and the way it was told I really was m

      • There was something so controlled and so angry about the voice of the narrator. Like the voice of someone who had suffered terrible loss that took them beyond the stage of crying and falling apart.

    • I’d go looking if I didn’t see it. It still seems to be appearing in my reader – I’d go looking if it didn’t.

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