(cross-posted with TaniaWrites)
Well, he sort of does short stories. His new book, Nocturnes, is a collection of five such "things". Ishiguru doesn't seem wholeheartedly comfortable with the idea that he has actually written a short story collection! He said to the Guardian's Decca Aitkinhead on Monday:
"Well I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to call it," he admits. "I've been resisting calling it a collection of short stories because sometimes novelists do publish collections of short stories, and they're basically a rag bag of stories they've had sitting around for the last 30 years. Whereas this book I actually sat down and wrote from start to finish.Yes, true, from the author interviews on the Short Review, only a few authors seem to have done it this way, having a collection in mind and writing it. "I don't know what proper short story writers would think of this, but I've gone about this in the way a novelist would. I don't claim to be a short story writer, and I have no idea if I'm doing it properly; I'm just writing this almost like a novelist. It sounds very pretentious, but you know some music forms, like sonatas, you get five what seem like totally separate pieces of music but they go together."
I have added the Bold - proper short story writers? I found this fascinating. He's written five short stories, yet still doesn't claim to be a short story writer. He seems to see himself as a novelist stumbling into foreign territory. But surely, the definition of a short story writer is just... someone who writes short stories. Or is it not? Aitkenhead tries to clarify:
So it definitely isn't a novel? "No, it isn't a novel. I didn't want the stories to interweave as they would in a novel. So yes, they're short stories. But I've always said I don't want them published separately, I don't want them split up. I think that's a bit unreasonable of me because they would probably work alone, but I personally always thought of them as a single book. It's just a fictional book that happens to be divided into these five movements." He pauses for a moment to reconsider, and smiles apologetically. "I don't like these musical analogies, because it sounds wildly pretentious. Maybe it's better to say it's more like an album, and you don't sometimes want a track released as a single."
Food for thought - when is a set of short stories not a short story collection? Is Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kittredge, recent winner of the Pullitzer for Fiction, a short story collection or a novel-in-stories, and what exactly is a novel-in-stories but a short story collection? For me, the criteria is this: could you read just one and be satisfied, not have that bemused feeling when you turn the page and discover the story has ended? Does each story stand alone? Of course, this throws up the next dilemma: if they don't stand alone then are they, actually, chapters? Perhaps not the orthodox definition of chapters, but I for one, as I struggle with the idea of a Longer Thing that seems not to be a traditional novel yet is not a short story collection, like the idea of the semi-stand-alone-chapter-entity. A catchier name is needed, yes, but perhaps there should be a new definition. Not to divide; just to clarify. So that Ishiguru doesn't have to explain and defend. In the meantime, I say we claim him. When asked about the short story market, he told Aitkenhead:
"Well it's certainly a much smaller market, there's no doubt about it. I did ask people beforehand - because I was curious, I wanted to know, in a slightly mercenary way. I said what is the short story market compared to the novel market? And in America I was told it's between a third to a half of what I would sell as a novelist. Here in this country more like a quarter." And that didn't put him off? "Well no, because I've always wanted to have a short story collection."
"I've always wanted to have a short story collection". Well said, Mr Ishiguru. Now you do. Read the full interview.