If a story is good, does it matter how long it is? Author, Peter Bendall has made me think that maybe it’s time I questioned how and what I read.
I’m not wooed by size, but a big fat work of fiction can provide a crude sense of achievement when its end is reached. A long book can flood the brain with a plot for weeks; a novel can span years of story; and characters can develop and play their part over generations. Some stories come in a series – I am told that authors approaching publishers these days need to convincingly pitch also for book two, three and even four. We consume fiction as we do the television box-set. Stories have to be long, and almost as ongoing as a soap opera.
And yet paradoxically, we are also transfixed by the brief. Our lives are quick and fast. We need information and entertainment that wastes no time. A 10 second Youtube clip will thrill us. For our wisdom we read memes, not religious books or essays by philosophers. We tweet 140 characters rather than writing a letter.
Which leads me to “The Edible Anarchist“. This book has forced me to break my habits. Previously I may have associated “brief” with inferior, “short” with less good -slapdash even. When I first heard of the genre of “flash fiction” I thought it a fad and a sad reflection of our times. However Peter Bendall has proved me wrong. Every single one of his ultra short stories has been carefully crafted, he is like the painter of a miniature, or a skilled watchmaker.
His stories may be brief – most not more than a page long – yet the clear craft in their composition demonstrates a commitment of time in the writing. Not surprising, the writer is a English language expert – a teacher and publisher of grammar texts – his love of language is clear.
The back cover of the book asks, “Can an anarchist be edible? Is it possible to apprehend yourself? Do radiators contain universes? Can irony kill?” Bendall’s work is at the same time witty, playful, tragic and deliciously twisted at times. Two stories that have been shared online are “A Sunny” and “At the Seaside” – one presents itself almost as a quirky grammar exercise, the other defining the end of a relationship – and yet both clearly written by Bendall’s hand.
The Edible Anarchist surely is edible, but despite the brevity of each story, I would recommend it is sampled in courses, and savoured slowly, like the poetic set of dishes that it is. This book of flash fiction is not to be rushed.