(CLASSIC: from The Complete Short Stories, Vintage)
It was a toss-up between this and that old crowd pleaser, ‘Metamorphosis’. I chose ‘A Hunger Artist’ because it has everything – everything – and all in under ten pages. It’s basically the story of a person – a man – who starves himself, professionally. It’s totally old-fashioned and yet utterly modern. In fact it was this short story that inspired David Blaine to suspend himself in that perspex box by Tower Bridge a few years back. It’s both alienating and heart-wrenching. It’s superlative – a jewel; a master-class in the form. I find it hard to believe a better story (of any length) about hunger and obsession has ever – or will ever – be written.
(MODERN: from In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Little, Brown)
I could’ve chosen any one of Gilchrist’s stories – she’s such a deft, uncompromising mistress of the form – but I chose this one because in it she manages to compress everything she needs to say (which is quite a lot) into a brief, blithe four sides of type. And she imbues every sentence with her easy, instinctive sense of wit and drollery. When I first read Gilchrist as a student in the 80s (beautifully published as she was back then by Faber) it made me want to embrace the form myself (reading Angela Carter around the same time gave me the final shove). Gilchrist’s female characters are the kinds of women I fear and yet secretly long to be. They are funny, cruel, devastatingly stylish, thoughtful, idiosyncratic, brilliant… And so – I don’t for a second doubt – is she.
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