Something a little different on the Ramblings today – short books! I must admit that when I finished reading the Malaparte, I was unsure as to where to head next; I really hate it when I get into one of those moods when I can’t commit to something substantial. However, whilst rummaging in the shelves, I rediscovered a selection of slim Faber Stories books which were issued to celebrate their 90th birthday last year. I guess the highest-profile release was the previously unissued Sylvia Plath story “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” (which I covered here); but there were a number of other intriguing titles and I had five on the shelves. I raced through them all in a day, with great enjoyment, and thought I would touch on them briefly over a couple of posts. For simplicity, I’ve divided them up by author gender, and so today it’s the turn of the men! 😀 The writers couldn’t be more different, but both of these little volumes were very punchy and effective reading.

Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss

Aldiss is an author who’s no stranger on the Ramblings – I was very taken with his “Report on Probability A“, loved his tale of a young man’s bookselling days in “The Brightfount Diaries“, and have been most impressed by the short story collection into which I’ve dipped over the years. “Three Types…” brings together three short later works: “Happiness in Reverse”, “A Single-minded Artist” and “Talking Cubes”.

Oh, sadness is just happiness in reverse. We humans have to put up with it. Just being human is an awful burden to bear.

The subject matter ranges from the quirkiness of a lonely man causing havoc by creating a new species, through an artist finding contentment in an unexpected solitude, to a couple revisiting a past encounter with the aid of a modern technology. I was impressed all over again by Aldiss’s writing and his imagination; he’s so skilful at subverting your expectations, and often what starts as a seemingly simple tale ends up as something completely different and much stranger. Reading this has rather made me want to go back and read some of those other Aldiss books lurking on the TBR…

Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera

On to a completely different author. Kundera is a French-Czech author, hailing from the latter country but now writing in French. He’s probably best known for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1984), but the one story included here is from 1969 and was published in the “Laughable Loves” collection in 1974. It’s a clever and moving story, telling of a reunion between a man and a woman who had briefly been lovers 15 years earlier. The woman had been older and married; she’s now a widow. The younger man finds himself an ageing bachelor. And despite the age difference, and the fact that the woman is now effectively an *old* woman (and we know how they’re regarded as not really women any more…), there *is* still an attraction. The story cleverly plays out in alternating chapters from the point of view of each character, and it’s clear their viewpoints and motivations are different. It’s inevitable that they’ll sleep together, equally inevitable that the encounter will end in disgust; but for a short time, the author allows them their illusions.

“Let the Old…” is a very clever, very effective story, brilliantly told; and quite moving, dissecting the motivations and emotions of the two participants. There *will* be no happy ending, but perhaps some kind of comfort for both. Very impressive, and as I know I have at least *one* unread Kundera in the house, I must try to track it down…


Faber have been a favourite publisher of mine since my teens; I had collections of Dickinson and e.e. cummings and Plath in their imprint, which are still with me; and they have such a rich and wonderful history of books published. The Faber Stories really are lovely little books and a great way to make the acquaintance of new authors.

Next time on the Ramblings – the Faber Stories Women’s Edition! 😀