Wednesday 9 January 2013

Best short story in the language

The well-paced post-prandial Edwardian phrases of the first paragraph barely prepare us for the mind-bending thrills in store:

Certainly, if ever a man found a guinea when he was looking for a pin it is my good friend Professor Gibberne. I have heard before of investigators overshooting the mark, but never quite to the extent that he has done. He has really, this time at any rate, without any touch of exaggeration in the phrase, found something to revolutionise human life. And that when he was simply seeking an all-round nervous stimulant to bring languid people up to the stresses of these pushful days. I have tasted the stuff now several times, and I cannot do better than describe the effect the thing had on me. That there are astonishing experiences in store for all in search of new sensations will become apparent enough.

H. G. Wells's The New Accelerator was first published in 1901 and has been dazzling new readers ever since. There are other contenders for the best short story ever written in English - Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, Joyce's The Dead, D. H. Lawrence's Odour of Chrysanthemums, Beckett's First Love (translated by the author from the original French) and any number of Pritchetts - but for my money The New Accelerator beats them all for strangeness, originality, invention and dark wit. It's about Professor Gibberne's discovery of a wonder-drug, an elixir that accelerates the user's metabolism to a tremendous degree. It seems a boon in 'these pushful days'. But there are some unpredictable side effects . . .

It takes around twenty minutes to read and will stay with you. If nothing else you may one day decide to make a bank holiday pilgrimage to the Folkestone Leas, where the story unfolds.

You can find the complete text here:

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