Life’s too short for long stories by Bart Van Goethem

Cover image of the book by Bart Van Goethem, Life's too short for long storiesThis book is one of the many reasons that I love Twitter. Because without having tweeted about my own attempts at flash fiction, I’d never have had an email out of the blue sweetly offering to send me a free review copy of this book. I’m very glad I said yes. Here’s why…

There are short stories, there are short short stories, there is micro fiction and there is flash fiction. And then there is Bart Van Goethem’s “Life’s Too Short for Long Stories”. I guess you could call this book millifiction. The tiny format, just 12cm square, and the title, half cliche, half witticism, make you a smile before you’ve even opened the book. Each page of this pleasingly chunky volume bears a title and a sentence or two or even just a word. Many of these stories could be comfortably accommodated within the confines of a Tweet.

The Secret Life of Henry VIII

Gay

Some of them consist of nothing but a title.

Memoirs of an Uninteresting Man

It’s tempting to compare these tiny tales to one-line jokes beloved by comedy greats such as Eric Morecambe and Tommy Cooper. Alhough some of them are just as laugh-out-loud funny, this analogy does them a disservice. Even in the shortest tale, there are hidden depths. Hence the need to place each one at the centre of a blank white page, allowing room for the implications to ooze out around the printed words.

As a seasoned writer of conventional length short stories (3,000 words or so), I know how just a few words can speak volumes and trigger a much longer tale: a snippet of conversation overheard on a bus, a two-word exchange eavesdropped in the office toilets, a murmured aside that the utterer thinks has gone unheard. What Bart Van Goethem has done so cleverly here is to capture such evocative exchanges and window-dress them so that the reader can easily infer the back story by himself. The pleasure, intrigue and interest in these stories will last very much longer than it takes to read the few words of which they are composed.

Its cute minimalistic design has earned this book a place in a Belgian design museum. But this book should not be kept under glass. It’s a comfortable, tactile experience to pick it up and hold it in your hand. It’s one to handle over and over, to read and re-read in idle moments. Keep it in the car, by the loo, by your bed, in the guest room. Lots of different types of people will love it. In order to write this review, I had to wrestle it first off my father, a Shakespeare addict, then my husband, who prefers weighty scientific tomes. My 9 year old daughter, passing by on her way to bed just now, picked it up as I was typing this review. “Is this sort of book for me?” she asked hopefully. The answer is definitely no. Beware, there is adult content! Don’t let it end up on the bookshelves in your children’s bedrooms, whatever else you do with it.

Buy it as a gift for a friend or relation – and not just to mock those who complain they never have time to read. It’s a great stocking-filler for Christmas, and not only because it will fit so tidily into a stocking. What I’m left wondering now is what will the author do for a sequel? I’m looking forward to finding out.

After-thought: a children’s equivalent would be a fabulous way to engage even the most reluctant reader and turn any child into an eager lover of books. Over to you, Mr Van Goethem… 

To buy your copy from Amazon, please click here. (And don’t forget to “like” it and review it when you’ve read it!)