‘Barcelona’ by Philip Langeskov

The current directors of UEA’s MA in Creative Writing (the Prose Fiction strand) are two alumni of the programme: Naomi Wood, author of The Godless Boys and Mrs Hemingway, and Philip Langeskov, who’s so absurdly talented it’s almost scandalous that he hasn’t got around to publishing more than he has. I’ve been haunted by this long short story ever since it was published by Daunt as a standalone single, the cover as enticing as a bar of posh chocolate. Here Daniel and Isla return to the city where they celebrated their honeymoon ten years previously, but at seemingly every turn the sunny ease of their holiday is stalked by complication, mishap, anxiety, foreboding. In its ominousness it’s reminiscent of McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers; in its nonchalance, of Geoff Dyer’s Jeff In Venice.For 50-odd pages it is the best of company, however unsettling. Then something extraordinary happens, both in the story and in the means of its telling. Some fiction will make you weep; some may make you laugh out loud. But it’s rare that a story will make you punch the air, as I did at the end of ‘Barcelona’, both on first reading, and now, as I come back to it.

Published as a single short story by Daunt, 2013, and collected in Best British Short Stories 2013, Salt.

‘Notes on a Love Story’ by Philip Langeskov

The bulk of this incredibly clever and satisfyingly circular short story is written in footnotes, some of which are true and some of which are fiction. It’s a story within a story about another story, which also references other stories. It’s about art versus love/life, the nature of stories, and also about how the narrator, who is a writer, foretells how his relationship with his girlfriend will end right at the moment he meets her. He writes it down in a story entitled ‘How It Will End’, which, ironically, causes the end of his relationship when his girlfriend reads it. According to one of the footnotes, “In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes proposes that falling in love involves telling ourselves stories about falling in love…All stories are love stories…”. The final footnote ends with these words disappearing into nothingness: “Unlike love, the story never ends. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends.”

(from The Best British Short Stories 2011, edited by Nicholas Royle, Salt, 2011. First published in Five Dials Issue No. 9)