I’ve always felt that inside every really great short story is the makings of an even better novel. Not that the novel should always be written – the short form can be the best way to put the idea across.
Yet short stories shouldn’t have to mean small ideas. I cite as evidence for the defence The Sentinel by Arthur C Clarke. Famously the inspiration for Clarke’s seminal novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, the short story would be no less satisfying if Clarke and Kubrick hadn’t gone on to make one of the best science-fiction films of all time. I also cite as evidence for the defence the superb To Avenge Man by Lester Del Rey. This is possibly one of my favourite short stories, but it’s never been filmed or expanded into a novel – yet it has the capacity, easily, to be either.
All of which leads me to The Brittle Birds by Anthony Cowin. The central idea behind the story (it’s revealed early in the story, but I won’t do so here) is both fascinating and frightening. It could easily have become the core of a novel. Within the short story format, it comes across with a dash of the dark atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing; it’s almost something you can feel, rather than something you read.
The writing is assured, the mood oppressive, the pace brooding – building slowly to something that suffocates rather than explodes. A very enjoyable short story, with – as all great short stories should – the capacity to be so much more.