Harvill Secker £12.99 (275pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Notwithstanding, By Louis de Bernières

British publishers hate short stories. Their reasoning has nothing to do with literature and everything to do with sales figures. Unless a collection is notoriously shocking, like Ian McEwan's First Love, Last Rites, strung along a theme currently in the headlines, like Adam Mars-Jones and Edmund White's Aids-themed The Darker Proof, or its author blessed with a readership of fanatically loyal completists, it will rarely sell in significant numbers. Only in North America do story collections ever reach the top ten and I doubt whether, even there, publishers have much success in persuading supermarkets to stock them.

The fourth exception is the collection whose stories are so closely linked that it can be marketed and, indeed, reviewed as though it were a novel. Notwithstanding is one of these. Published or broadcast between 1996 and 2004, the stories are all set in a thinly disguised version of the Surrey village where Louis de Bernières grew up. Mostly set between the 1960s and the 1980s, they conjure a sense of small community by drawing on the same pool of characters and a sense of social irony by shifting the narrative focus from tale to tale. Almost everyone is revealed to have a concealed driving motive, usually a sad one. Even the repeatedly encountered characters who never get a story to themselves at least have their erratic behaviour explained. The cumulative effect is comic, benignly forgiving and shot through with threads of nostalgic regret.

De Bernières has a big heart and his narrative impulse tends always towards the revelation that everyone, however they try to disguise it, merits our love or at least our understanding. Inevitably this means he is often at risk of sentimentality. In his novels his defence is regular injections of brutality. Here, the brutality is largely in the natural world. Notwithstanding is as packed with animals as it is with characters – cats, dogs, squirrels, horses, moles, rats, birds, a goat and, notably, a spider – and if they're not dying, they're killing each other or being killed. De Bernières doesn't anthropomorphise them – although he brilliantly shows the depth of feeling that can exist between man and beast – but observes them with a naturalist's unsentimental eye, nowhere more successfully than in "Silly Bugger", in which a small boy rescues and tames a marvellously anarchic rook chick. As in The Cunning Little Vixen or the novels of Mary Webb, Nature and her creatures provide a chorus that at once justifies and debunks the posturing and weakness of the men and women in the foreground. "The pheasants that have survived the last season's holocaust strut ridiculously in the orchard, the males engaging in combat, while the females wait to be covered. The voice of the turtle is heard again in the land, but for the last time, because the turtle doves will not come again in subsequent years. They are exterminated pointlessly but systematically by the Maltese while en route from Africa."

If De Bernières doesn't always succeed in keeping sentimentality at bay, I suspect he doesn't give a hoot. He cares deeply for this vision of a vanished, or vanishing, English rusticity. He knows his ideals are outmoded but has the confidence born of sure knowledge. "In these parts Helen Allingham had painted her pictures of rose-draped cottages and the rural life thereabouts, to be condemned for ever by urban art snobs as a sentimentalist, even though those places were exactly as she depicted them, and often still are."

The honest vision he is celebrating is of "the England that the English used to love, when England was still loved by the English". Notwithstanding is a fond memorial to a corner of England where people still say "Drat", shoot, drive Hillman Minxes, make jam, wear ties at weekends and prefer poetry that rhymes, where a lesbian couple is respected but never spoken of as such. The urban art snobs will almost certainly sneer but, if listening figures for The Archers are any indication of a public appetite, Notwithstanding will sell, well, like a novel.

Patrick Gale's collection of stories, 'Gentleman's Relish', has just been published by Fourth Estate

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin