(CLASSIC: from Selected Stories, Wordsworth Classics)
This is the shortest short story I know, but one of the most powerful. It’s about a man’s inability to grieve for his son, killed in the First World War. He is reminded of his son by an employee, and when he finds a trapped fly in his inkwell repeatedly drops ink on it until it dies. The story reminds me of Lear’s speech about how “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” and makes you feel both the random cruelty of war and the brutality of taking any life. It’s a masterpiece of concision, ambiguity, rage and control.
(MODERN: from Indefinite Nights, Back to Front)
Indefinite Nights is a collection of stories which follow the professional life of a young nurse on a journey through the theory and practice of nursing itself. General wards, psychiatric wards, geriatric wards, surgical wards, and maternity wards – with their patients, nurses and doctors – are examined by Ferguson’s acute yet humane eye. The title story is about a nurse caring for a young celebrity who may or may not be terminally ill. Their intimate relationship is compellingly-written, bleakly funny, yet full of human warmth; it could only be written by someone who knows nursing intimately. One of many prize-winning authors who vanished from mainstream publishing with the demise of Andre Deutsch, Ferguson is an outstanding novelist and short-story writer who deserves a much wider readership.
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