Lunatics, Lovers and Poets, according to Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are ‘of imagination all compact’; cut from the same tree, hewn from the same rock, hard to tell apart, who knows! To mark the 400th anniversary year of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes, the ever-enterprising publisher & Other Stories has published an anthology of twelve short stories. Intriguingly, the six Spanish writers take Shakespeare as their starting point while the English take Cervantes. In the English edition, the Spanish stories appear in translation while in a Spanish edition hispanophones can read the English rendered into their language. To top it off, Salman Rushdie contributes an introduction. For 83p a story this must be one of the year’s best buys.
All the stories have that quintessential dreamlike quality of the short form: a mood, a moment, a memory and then it is over. They are all good; no one is a make-weight. The very quixotic opening story by Ben Okri transposes the Don to Nigeria but developing the incident when, in Book II, he visited a printing shop. The narrator suggests to the knight that he is reading very slowly and merits the sharp rebuke,
Do you think that I read sixty-seven thousand three hundred and twenty-two books by taking instructions from you in how to read? […] In the course of a fifty-year reading career […] I have experimented with three hundred and twenty-two modes of reading. I have read speedily like a bright young fool, crabbily like a teacher, querulously like a scholar, wistfully like a traveller, and punctiliously like a lawyer. I have read selectively like a politician, comparatively like a critic, contemptuously like a tyrant, glancingly like a journalist, competitively like an author, laboriously like an aristocrat. I have read critically like an archaeologist, microscopically like a scientist, reverentially like the blind, indirectly like a poet. Like a peasant I have read carefully, like a composer attentively, like a schoolboy hurriedly, like a shaman magically. I have read in every possible way there is of reading.
What tellingly accurate similes. We ought to try them all!
Once again, every story is excellent but, for my money (all 83p of it) the funniest is written by ‘that God-bothering token Welshman, Rhidian Brook’ – his own words, I assure you – and called ‘The Anthology Massacre’.