Darlings! If you haven’t (God forbid) ever read any short stories by Noël Coward – playwright, director, actor, songwriter, filmmaker, novelist and wit, you simply must immediately walk, run or be chauffered to the nearest bookshop and pick up a copy of Noël Coward – The Collected Short Stories.
The introduction, written by no less than Mr. Coward himself, is worth the price of admission.
“I decided to re-read (with a certain reluctance) the stories in this book . . . . . . In this particular instance I am happy to say I was most pleasantly surprised. These stories strike me as being neither outmoded nor inept, nor indeed so perfect that I feel I can never better them. In fact, I enjoyed reading them very much . . . . . . “
He goes on to acknowledge and salute the masters of the short story genre – de Maupassant, Maugham, Katherine Mansfield, O’ Henry , Saki, et al.
For Coward, short stories have been an absorbing experiment in form, fascinating to write, but far from easy. Yet, he has managed to capture that elusive magic which makes the perfect short story. He applies his skills as a playwright to a form which is somewhere between a play and a novel.
The stories in this volume are drawn from To Step Aside, published in 1939, and Star Quality, published in 1951. Tonight, I fell in love with Cheap Excursion, which describes a love affair between the Diana Reed, a star of The Theatre, forty and desperate, and Jimmy, her much younger assistant stage manager, well beneath her ‘station’ and status. Mr. Coward exquisitely captures an evening of Miss Reed’s ego-inflated knife-edged infatuation with this hapless young man. Pure genius along the lines of Steinbeck at his best, perfectly capturing a character immersed in her milieu and time.
Noël Coward is a rare genius for whom it seems there is nothing he cannot do. He is still known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise”. Truly a star.