I love a gift-y set of books and these big beauties, The Penguin Book of the British Short Story split over two volumes chronologically, have been edited by the award-winning novelist, critic and journalist Philip Hensher. The research for this intimidating prospect involved him, rather obviously, reading hundreds and hundreds of British short stories for more than a year (fully admitting this part of the process to be a joy) in order to distil down what must have been an incredibly tough shortlist (more difficult). I can picture the sleepless nights, him tossing and turning Sophie’s Choice-like over the Robert Aickmans. The difference in his approach though was that as well as the usual suspects such as Conrad, Dickens, Greene and Waugh, he also sought and found tales by lesser known writers, not re-published since their first appearances in magazines and periodicals of the time. Some magnificent stories have been unearthed to be included here alongside the big hitters and I think that’s what really makes this a truly broad and delightful selection to discover.


Despite being quite the handsome pair – the classic clothbound finish is juxtaposed beautifully with the surprise of modern, brightly coloured endpapers (well done Penguin, AGAIN) –  I doubt these will simply go on the shelf as ‘bimbo books’ but instead seem destined to be fully devoured and enjoyed over the Christmas period and beyond.

The Penguin Book of the British Short Story: Volume I: From Daniel Defoe to John Buchan £25

The Penguin Book of the British Short Story: Volume II: From P.G. Wodehouse to Zadie Smith £25

Edited by Philip Hensher

Published by Penguin Classics on 5th Nov