South African short stories

2011-07-13 00:00

THIS volume contains the 21 short stories that made it to the final round of the 2011 Pen-Studzinski literary award. The aim is to encourage new writing in the region, give it the kudos of being judged by J. M. Coetzee, and then bring it to the notice of the reading public.

That said, the resulting volume is a bit of a curate’s egg. The good parts are excellent, but the overall impression is that we have been here before.

In his comment at the beginning, Coetzee says that it was South African writing that predominated in the final stages of the judging, but that the naked talent and fresh vision of the world stubbornly fails to arrive. Also, if the intention is to seek out new, young talent, I would have to say that the young aspect seems to have largely gone missing.

Much of the writing shows a South Africa that is lawless, corrupt and sad, which is why Sarah Lotz’s offering, although sadly not among the prizewinners, seemed to me to be a gem: it is, above all, funny. James Whyle’s winning story is very well constructed, and several of the others give pleasure. Maybe it is a book to be dipped into rather than read straight through, but I found myself irritated by the sameness of the tone of many of the offerings, and a tendency to start well but fizzle out before the end.

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