Mrs Fox, by Sarah Hall
Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall is full precise and sexy stories. There is the natural magic of Mrs Fox, but there is also speculative horror, dystopia, and sadness. They are all run through with a femininity that is as subtle and powerful as Mary Beard posing naked.
Although the stories tilt reality slightly off its axis they are still serious even when they are absurd, and they are serious too about the form. They are precisely lengthed, as in they are as long or as short as they need to be. There's no fluff and no cuts. They don't evoke the sense of a writer just getting the job done but neither do they make me wonder how she did it. They are, though, great stories.
But something needs to be said about short story reviewers. A Guardian article said:
But despite the laurels, the eulogies ... and glowing comparisons to the likes of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro, the odd sense lingers of Hall as a well-kept secret.
This reviewer avoided comparing Sarah Hall to Alice Munro and Raymond Carver by saying other people did. What does this even mean?
Sarah Hall is not like Munro and Carver. Carver is not like Munro. I'm quite sure an enthusiastic critic (or student) could find commonalities between them all, but that is not in fact why these comparisons are made, because if there was a genuine similarity why not tell us what it is? People compare short story writers to Munro and Carver because their work is representative of mastery of the form (although there is no competition between them with Munro being the greater writer by far). What these comparisons say is "short stories aren't really my thing but I think this writer is good at them." It's like comparing Philip Glass to Bach.
Short stories are like films. They can be read in one sitting, they can be weird and adventurous and put a kernel of something into us that burns and lingers and makes us think. Novels, if we must press this comparison forwards, are like TV. They go on and on and leave you with the deep impression of a landscape. But which gets the critical love? Films and novels. But Salman Rushdie has written for TV, because he sees the scope and breadth they offer. And Alice Munro is a better writer but less famous than almost all novelists.
Who cares? It's the whims of fashion. But Sarah Hall is exceptionally talented and her short stories deserve a review of their own.