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Obsession ed Sarah LeFanu and Stephen Hayward, Serpent's Tail pounds 8.99.

A good short story can be as difficult to write as a good novel; no writer should underestimate the exacting standards of the form. Serpent's Tail's latest collection of mostly original stories is inevitably a mixed affair. "Obsession" should be a compelling theme, but Jeff Torrington's opening tale of industry and redundancy fails to do the job. Michele Roberts's collection of lists reads disappointingly like Roald Dahl brushing up against experimentalism. Ursule Molinaro also experiments, by using ampersands - at the beginning of a sentence no less.

There's more interest and enjoyment to be had with those writers who are genuinely doing something new with the language. Call them stylists and they'd probably demur, but Adam Thorpe, Allan Gurganus and Kirsty Gunn twist syntax around their little fingers, all of them managing to tease some spark and emotion from their characters' lives. In Kirsty Gunn's "Fluids", tendrils of eroticism and ambiguous sexuality intertwine when two old girlfriends get together again. Lisa Tuttle's "In Jealousy" starts intriguingly: "I've always liked ghost stories without believing in them. But this one I believe, because it happened to me." This from a ghost- story writer choosing to write in the first person. It's an imaginative idea to take on a most dangerous obsession, and the fact that it could have done without its last three sentences doesn't prevent the story from being effective.

Obsession is less satisfying overall than Tony Peake's Seduction for the same publisher last year, but Serpent's Tail is to be congratulated for publishing ambitious anthologies of short fiction.