18 July 2011

Book Review: Short Story Perfection

There is one word that comes to mind when I think of Eric-Emmanuel Scmitt's new collection of short stories, Concerto to the Memory of an Angel--and I should stress that it is not a word that I commonly use when writing book reviews--and that word is "perfect." In the US, the short story seems to get short shrift and I'm not sure why.  Of the various literary forms, I consider it to be among those most difficult to execute well. Great novels are a dime a dozen, but not so the great short story collection.  They are far less common and thus all the more to be valued when I do come across one.  This work has achieved a perfect and rare balance.  To add or to take away anything would ruin it.  I could continue to heap superlatives on it, but I'm fairly sure that, in my native tongue at least, "perfect" is pretty much the highest praise. 

This is Schmitt's third collection to be translated into English from his original French, brought to American audiences courtesy of Europa Editions and Alison Anderson's fine translation (which surely adds much to the book's perfection).  Full of philosophy and quiet moments of ephiphany, these stories range from a father's intensely private ruminations on the death of a child to a portrait of a celebrity marriage very much in the public eye.  Each story leaves the reader a little bit slack-jawed with amazement that so much can be conveyed and accomplished with such efficiency.  If you value fine writing and the remarkable execution of a difficult craft, this is a book you should purchase for your collection right away.

The only negative point I can think to raise is that despite Europa's very high production qualities overall, Scmitt's works suffer from dreadful jacket design and a tendency toward awkward book titles. 

NB: I requested this book from my Penguin sales reps and received my complimentary finished copy in the mail last month. 


  1. I loved, loved loved Odette Toulemonde et autres histoires, but it took me a couple years to get through due to a big pause halfway through. ;) I'll add this to my list.

  2. I am going to add this to my list for the Europa Editions challenge. Thanks for a great review.

  3. Ooh. The short story is my favorite genre, and I agree that it is wildly challenging to execute. Believe me, I've tried. Poetry's a walk in the park compared to short fiction.
    And I'm always looking for masters of this form. Onto the TBR it goes. And I'm off to find out what the Europa Editions Challenge is...
    p.s. If great novels are a dime a dozen, why can't I find more of them?
    Good ones? You bet. Great? Few and far between for me this year. In fact, the book at the very top of my ratings this year is a short fiction collection, not a novel... Sigh.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)