cover image Complete Collected Stories

Complete Collected Stories

V. S. Pritchett. Random House (NY), $35 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40215-2

To bring out Pritchett's 80-odd stories, written over more than 50 years, in one huge and handsome volume of 1200 pages is a magnificent gesture. For those unfamiliar with this side of the celebrated critic's work, his stories are remarkable: crisp, exquisitely written and inimitably English in their delight in quirky character, their aliveness to social nuance and their unerring sense of setting. What is particularly striking, seeing them all together, from stories published in 1938 to those written in the late '80s, is their consistency. Pritchett's sense of human variety, the certainty with which he sets the scene and his utter confidence in his material never falters, and one would be hard put, on stylistic evidence, to assign dates to most of the stories. Naturally, they reflect the passing scene: there are wonderfully comic and poignant wartime stories, dour postwar elegies and evocations of '60s bohemia. Pritchett is equally at home in London pubs and country houses, and loves eccentric occupations like antique dealing: ``The Camberwell Beauty'' has to be the best story ever written about it. Pritchett's work is always to scale; sometimes a story, like ``Blind Love'' or ``On the Edge of the Cliff,'' expands to novella length; sometimes, as in ``The Voice,'' it is a sketch unforgettably concluded in a few pages. As a body of work, Pritchett's stories can stand comparison with any others written in the century. (Mar.)