Three of my favourite short stories

I came across a blog post recently that suggested a ‘gratitude’ approach to reading.

So, here are 3 books I’m grateful for:

‘Death on the Nile’, by Agatha Christie

I am grateful for this book because, first of all, I have always loved going on epic journeys, so I love reading about them too – my childhood summer holidays involved travelling by train from the north of England to the south of France, and I have fond memories of being rocked gently to sleep outside of Paris, and waking to blazing sunlight and cicadas on the outskirts of Montpellier. Since then I’ve travelled on the Indian-Pacific from Adelaide to Perth, as part of my year-long overland journey around Australia; I’ve visited Egypt, travelling from Cairo to Abu Simbel by train, boat, and bus, including 7 days on the Nile (which was exciting enough without any murders, thank you very much); and I spent 12 years flying between Manchester and southern China, via the Middle East. One day I hope to complete the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Vladivostok, and the Orient Express from London to Istanbul.

Secondly, I am in love with the romance of the 1930s/40s, especially when that relates to travel – it is infinitely more romantic to take the overnight train or the slow boat, and of course it helps greatly if that journey takes place in luxurious surroundings and accompanied by mysterious rich people who may or may not wish to murder / have already murdered someone. Destinations back then seemed so much more exotic, because tourism was only for the rich. In reading this book, you can travel through 1930s Egypt, too.

Thirdly, Poirot is like an old friend; I can pick up any Poirot mystery, and regardless of which character is narrating the story, Poirot remains the same: the pompous but kind-hearted Belgian detective, with a head shaped like an egg, grand moustaches, and ‘foreign’ airs and graces. Christie has forever linked holidays and murder in my mind, so I have to read a Poirot or two whenever I’m lounging by a pool in a tropical destination.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, by Margaret Atwood

Atwood classes this book as ‘speculative’ fiction, i.e. this horrific dystopia is something that could happen in our future. I was shocked when, after finishing it, I discovered that Atwood had said everything that happens in the novel has happened to women at some point in history.

I’m grateful for this novel because it opened my eyes to ‘protest’ writing, in that it opened my eyes to some of the possibilities that protest writing offers a writer, for example using a dystopian setting to magnify the issues you’re protesting or warning about. Also, Atwood has made me realise how powerful it can be to tell the reader ‘this has already happened’. 

Perhaps, when Atwood first wrote the novel, people said ‘No, this could never happen’, but it seems to me that as we move through time, we move closer and closer to the society she envisaged. It’s the realism, the little touches the reader can relate to the ‘real world’, and the monstrosity the situation brings out in some of the characters, that make this novel so compelling – you can read it, and you can wonder: ‘what if?’

‘The Birds and Other Stories’, by Daphne du Maurier 

This book contains six of du Maurier’s short stories, beginning with the titular ‘The Birds’ which, of course, inspired the Hitchcock movie of the same name (although the movie is very different from the story).

The stories cover a range of subjects, characters, and places, and they don’t all fit into a specific genre, but each has a distinctive eerie quality characteristic of du Maurier. I love du Maurier’s style – the evocative descriptions, the unique voices of her characters, the little details that bring the stories to life. Each story is so well constructed that the textworlds and the characters that inhabit them feel real, so I’m drawn in, and when I finish reading one of her stories it lingers in my mind.

I find du Maurier’s endings, in particular, to be very well done, and she appreciates a nice twist, as I do. In fact, one of my favourite endings is ‘Rebecca’, which I think is as close to perfect as a story can get. My other favourite endings include: ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James, ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley, and ‘The Company of Wolves’ by Angela Carter.

I’m grateful for this book because it makes me want to write like du Maurier – both novels and short stories, and without sticking to just one genre, but always with evocative descriptions of place, interesting characters, and twists.

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