The Short Story, The Novel & The Antiques Roadshow


antiquesroadshow2010 008NB: This is a transcript of a conversation overheard on the 93 bus*

“So come on then Terry, you said you’d have an answer by today.”

“What you mean a working analogy for the difference, apart from length, between novels and short stories, given that they are both forms of prose fiction Dave?”

“That’s the one.”

“As it happens, I did think of something.”

“Sweet. I’m all ears.”

“I have to admit Dave, I was struggling up until Antiques Roadshow came on the telly.”

“I’m bearing with you Terry, carry on.”

“As you know I’m partial to Fiona Bruce and the antics – excuse the weak wordplay – of the antiques experts. Anyway, I was wondering what big house or stately home they were going to be at – there’s always some big posh place in the background. Then I was thinking, I bet we’re due an episode with that jewellery expert bloke with the minty accent.”

“Has this got anything to do with short story and novel comparisons or are you just playing for time until you get to your stop Terry?”

“Easy now Dave, I’m getting there. Don’t forget that pace is an important element in all forms of prose and delaying the moment of revelation can build tension and suspense…

“Get on with it will ya Tel.”

“So, big house, posh expert, minty accent. I was thinking I really like the way he says Faberge. Faberge egg. Fab-ah-shay egg. And right then it struck me…

“Thank God!”

“Big house, Faberge egg. Novel, short story. Now I know Dave, that Faberge eggs aren’t to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubting the level of skill that went into making them. Small but intricate, beautifully worked, exquisite pieces that pack in a huge amount of detail. They hold colour and light, darkness and mystery.

“They are bold but restrained, they don’t give all of their secrets up in one go, they are the product of many hours of learning the skills to create, they dazzle, forged in heat and dirt yet appear flawless. They are made from a desire to create the most beautiful thing the maker could achieve.”

“So you’re saying that though small, your Faberge egg is an intensely beautiful object full of subtle detail, which is the result of great craftsmanship – just like a short story or flash fiction.”

“Pretty much what I just said Dave, but well done.”

“Thankyou. And the house?”

“Well that’s achieved with high levels of craftsmanship and skill too. But there’s more structure and architecture involved than the egg, more planning on a grand scale. There’s many rooms to visit as you work your way through the house, lots of nooks and corners to poke around in. And when you walk out of the house and look back you see a different view from when you were inside it. You can kind of see the whole thing, but not all the detail.

“I think you might have done a decent job here Tel, I think this analogy could take a few punches without hitting the canvas. You could work it round the body, give it some left hooks to the kidneys and it would still be in the ring.”

“Don’t try to make an analogy of an analogy Dave, that’s just being a smart arse.”

“My apologies Terry, moving on.”

“There’s not that much more to add Dave, just that even the greatest house has flaws. It is too big a structure not to have a bit of shoddy workmanship in some high, dark corner. Sometimes the ceilings sag or the floorboards bow, or there are walls in the wrong place. But you accept this, know this even before going through the front door and accept that in a great house, you can easily overlook the weaknesses when being dazzled by the strengths, the complexity, the sense of lives carrying on within it.”

“That it Terry?”

“Pretty much Dave, this is my stop.”

“Whatcha want to chat about tomorrow?”

“How about the ontological argument versus the teleological argument. Or the essential differences between Man United and Chelsea.

“I’ll have a think and text you later Terry. Give Doreen a kiss for me.”

*Or completely made up, I can’t quite remember…