James Lasdun is a remarkable stylist, but his short stories examine style as a problem as much as a solution. Lasdun’s characters, that is, often fall victim to an elegance that conceals a type of discomfort. In ‘A Bourgeois Story’, one of sixteen exquisite pieces collected in It’s Beginning to Hurt, a lawyer returns home from an awkward drinking session with a friend from his Trotskyite youth to find that his whole lifestyle now seems cockeyed, touched by ‘something almost mocking in the incalculable abundance of these things’. Achievement breeds dissatisfaction for many of Lasdun’s characters. On another level, this is why Lasdun’s stories play off their fine sense of craft against plots and psychological insights left unresolved: come morning, the lawyer’s epiphany may well dissolve as promptly as his Alka-Seltzer.
There is plenty of abundance on display in this collection: the stories are set in upmarket London and upstate New York, or in the comfortable holiday destinations of their inhabitants. Lasdun never fails to squeeze well-heeled chitchat for its comic potential (‘Don’t mind the dogs. They’ve just had