This anthology from the respected Bridport Prize annual competitions presents the winners of the Poetry, Short Story, and Flash Fiction sections. Of the 35 pieces published here, I’m disappointed to report only one, Kerry Lyons’ ‘Seventeen Weeks’, really moved me. Many of the others struck me as pretentious, overly academic, self-absorbed, or simply incomprehensible. A reading of the contributors’ brief bios revealed many of them were from academic backgrounds, and that may have influenced their style of presentation. I report this with real frustration, as the previous anthologies have contained far more diverse offerings and I expected this one would be similar in that respect.
Whilst there is undoubtedly much scholarship here, a great deal of it comes across as self-congratulatory and even deliberately obscure. Writing is, after all, a prime means of communication, and it seems not unreasonable to expect one of the UK’s most respected literary contests to have attracted a wide variety of story styles and poetic forms.
My reading of ‘Seventeen Weeks’ nevertheless made the purchase of the book worthwhile. As one half of a partnership that suffered an early stillbirth and all the emotional fallout such an experience engenders, I have some empathy with this story that moved me to tears.
The Bridport has always been a ‘literary’ stronghold, and I applaud that. But I am forced to wonder if this selection highlights a move toward the experimental, pretentious, and deliberately impenetrable. If so, I hope next year’s judges reject this narrowness and return to the good stories and evocative poems that previously marked this competition as outstanding.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]