Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sherlock Holmes/Bridesmaids

This week I watched the BBC's fabulous Sherlock. The TV adaptation sent me straight back to A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story, a novella, and to my Sherlock Holmes Complete Short Stories, an edition of all 56 stories first printed in Strand magazine. Would the originals feel as pacey, witty and engaging as the version I'd just watched by talented writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss?

I am not, I confess, a huge fan of the short story form, but all of these more than hold their own because 1) Sherlock is such a fantastic character, and 2) they have clear and engaging plots.

My problem with short stories? When you start reading a work of fiction, you take a leap of faith into an unknown world. The 'getting-to-know-you, am-I-going-to-like-you-stage' is so fragile and tentative, so much like a first date - the stakes are so high, I suppose - that it's my least favourite part of reading. With a good thick novel, I leap in, and once I'm committed, the pay-off is being immersed in another world for a week or two. A long term love affair. With a short story, I leap in, I commit, and it's all over in five minutes. Then I have to start again with another one. It's a series of one night stands. Same effort in, less result.

Yes, the reason I'm not all that keen on the short story form boils down to laziness. But the Sherlock Holmes stories get round the problem by taking me back to the same world each time.

Last night I went to see Bridesmaids. Whatever anyone says, it's just another rom com. It's also the reason why my discussion of the short story above has descended into a sexual metaphor.

Going to a film turned into a late night: I'm tired today. Kids and husband are off at grandma's, so for the rest of this afternoon here's my plan: go to bed with Sherlock Holmes. My guilty pleasure.


  1. It's been forever since I've read Sherlock, and I admit to only having read a few of the novels - Hound of the Baskervilles being my fave. (Though I remember being so very disappointed that [***SPOILER ALERT*** :)] it was just an ordinary dog painted with phosphorus.)

    But I must chime in to defend the short story! :) The reading experience is certainly different in many of the ways you describe. But a powerful short story invites you to revisit it again and again, each time a new and deeper experience as the patterns and elements woven into the story come into brighter relief (for example, that lovely sad story "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield immediately comes to mind, or just about anything by Poe, or Flannery O'Connor, or... )

    Have you read Anthony Doerr's recent collection Memory Wall? His stories seem (to me) to have the beauty and gravitas of a novel. (They do tend to be a bit longer than the typical contemporary short story.)

    Mind you I am biased for the short story! :) Hope you had a relaxing afternoon indulging in your guilt pleasure... what fun!
    ~ dawna

  2. Hi Dawna! I love Flannery O'Connor, and Katherine Mansfield, and William Trevor and plenty of other short story writers, honest! And I would hate to diss the entire short story form. I am only too aware of the enormous skill it takes to construct one that really works. It's just that I can't help loving big fat novels more than anything else (including more slender novels). I think I will do a blog post on my un-ease with short stories and see if I can sort out my issues (!) I'm sure you will put me right!

  3. P.S. I haven't read Memory Wall, but now I will.

  4. Hi, again! :) I do think you are spot-on about the pleasures of immersing in a novel, and for many (most?) people that is highly preferable to the experience of reading a short story which a number of very smart people I know (you included) tend to find frustrating. So I understand! Maybe just a matter of individual temperament? I sometimes have to brace myself before committing to a very long novel. (It took me years to work up the nerve to tackle Anna Karenina, for instance.) I find I have trepidation I can't quite explain. Once I'm in, though, it's great (assuming it's a good story, well written). Maybe I'm commitment-phobic? :) I look forward to reading more of your thoughts here! xo, dawna

  5. p.s. I love that image of Holmes and Watson. There's something weirdly Freudian about it! :) ~ d