The BBC National Short Story Award 2020
On Tuesday the winner of The BBC National Short Story Award was announced and I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the shortlist and give my thoughts on this year’s winner.
The winning story was, of course, ‘The Grotesques’ by Sarah Hall. The story doesn’t have too much of a plot but it is effectively about a young woman named Dilly as she makes her way home to her birthday party. On her journey she witnesses a senseless prank that has been played out on a homeless man by the local university kids. A lot of the book follows her inability to cope with the outside world and her relationship with her mother, who is somewhat of a controlling matriarch. Some of the major themes include class structures, family dynamics, psychology and liberalism. This story has something uncanny about it and the narrative managed to grip and unsettle me right up until the end. It was cleverly written and a very worthy winner!
Moving on from ‘The Grotesques’, there were two other stories that stood out for me in this collection. They were ‘Pray’ by Caleb Azumah Nelson and ‘In the Car with the Rain Coming Down’ by Jan Carson. ‘Pray’ is about two brothers from South East London whose parents have recently passed away. The story addresses many topics such as brotherhood, black male identity, loss, religion and music as therapy. The writing was particularly exquisite in this story - there was so much word play and at times it felt like I was reading poetry. The other one I really liked was ‘In the Car with the Rain Coming Down’ which is a story about a family picnic, exploring tense family politics and pecking orders. This story plays out a recognisable family outing in a way that is both funny and relatable.
I personally wasn’t as keen on the subject matters of ‘Come Down Heavy’ and ‘Scrimshaw’ but they were both beautifully written and I completely understand why they were shortlisted for the prize.
As a lover of London fiction, I did slyly want ‘Pray’ to win this year but overall I do think the best story won. If you want to read the shortlist, you can buy the anthology from Comma Press or you can listen to the stories for free on BBC Radio 4’s website.