Short story collections didn’t feature in my reading universe until recently, and it’s been a revelation to find them as entertaining as a novel, albeit in a different way. Take High Spirits – it kicks off with a fascinating introduction leading us through the labyrinth of links between alcohol and writing: from Dionysus to Chaucer, the tradition of drinking songs and poems and onto a legion list of writers who owe much to their favourite tipple. The description of short story writer Brendan Behan as ‘the drinker with writing problems’ proper tickled me. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s in an industrial town, alcohol has been a constant backdrop to the highs, lows and drama of my own life, so there’s much to identify with in the introduction along with literary connections I’d never considered before.
The eighteen stories that follow made me laugh, cry, cringe and reflect on alcohol’s power to alter us. The façade and fragility of relationships is often highlighted, but there is hope and comedy too. There are some writers here who I’ve heard of and read before such as Louis de Bernières, Jonathan Taylor and Hannah Stevens, but many who I’d not come across and that’s the joy of a collection like this. Jenn Ashworth fair took my breath away with her hyper-real portrayal of the messiness of grief in ‘Jackie Kennedy and the Widow,’ so now I have a new favourite author to check out.
Short stories are by their nature, er, short and intense and often leave you thinking about the characters and situation long after you’ve finished reading. It’s a different experience to reading a novel. Like the difference between downing a tray of shots versus drinking a pitcher of beer. Sometimes we need the free abandon of shots. I’d definitely recommend this book for established short story fans and newbies alike. Enjoy, and cheers!
About the reviewer
Karen Rust is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. She's a Lead Writer for Writing East Midlands, a freelance biographer for StoryTerrace and has work published in various literary magazines including Mooky Chick, Ellipsiszine and Inkpantry. She's currently working on a YA novel for her dissertation and makes music with Yodaclub. This review was first published on her blog here.
You can read another review, by Jon Wilkins, of High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories on Everybody's Reviewing here.
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