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Book Review : One City by Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

This book is a collection of three short stories, one each by three "Edinburgh" authors : Alexandar McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh. All the stories are set in that city. They all also, in one way or another, revolve around tigers – although quite why is never explained.

There has been much written, of late, about the resurgence of the short story form and it’s possible to see books like this (which was published in 2005) as a part of that trend. In truth, the stories are all quite long for “short stories” at 8-10,000 words each. You would struggle to find many markets that would normally accept realist short stories of this length, for example. It’s relevant that these are stories written by authors who made their names as novelists first.

The first two stories in the triptych are excellent. McCall Smith’s “The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva” is a gentle tale of an Indian doctor in Edinburgh. It’s as sweet as a nut. Rankin’s story, “Showtime”, concerns a homeless man drawn into the world of magicians. It’s the best of the three, intriguing and delicious, good enough to make me want to read some of his novels. Only Welsh’s story disappoints. Even some impressive swearing and ultraviolence can’t rescue it from mundanity. The tiger in this story, I suppose, is a metaphor for something, but the story is charmless and flat. Welsh seems to have become bored with it, too, as it peters out and we are left only with a sketch of what occurs. Disappointing.

Still, a highly recommended little book because of the first two stories.


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