When it comes to talking about love, novels have never been quite as good as short stories. But here the objections will come pelting in. Surely the greatest novels are all about love. Rochester and Jane; Elizabeth and Darcy; Vronsky and Anna: aren’t these love stories? They are, of course. But that isn’t quite the same thing. Whatever their virtues, even the best novels about love are really novels about the shape of a love affair, about the obstacles that love has to overcome or the consequences of consummation. The novel – bourgeois art form that it is – typically wants to know the effects of love on the family, on the community, on the world. Its concern is less with how love feels than with its arc. Anna Karenina might meet her end under a train, but Anna Karenina has plenty of time to tie up the loose ends of its narrative.
The short story, on the other hand, has frequently lent itself to literary thinking about modern love – and also about what the dust-jacket for A L Kennedy’s new collection calls ‘lack of love’. It may be that this seemingly good fit between subject and structure has something to do