Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature for her short stories. Maybe that will give a higher profile to that lovely and demanding form. I haven't reread Munro yet, although “Lives of girls and women” is waiting for me on my bedroom chair. I've been enjoying “Between friends” by Amos Oz, an Israeli writer who locates these stories on a kibbutz in the 1950s.

They are very understated narratives, no dramatic events or grand climaxes: just ordinary people encountering ordinary dilemmas: a son visiting a father who no longer recognises him; a married man battling his attraction to another woman; a woman nurturing her dying neighbour; a child traumatised by his peers and longing to be able to live with his parents; a father trying to deal with his daughter's relationship with a much older man. Oz makes these dilemmas moving and fraught in his telling, but without any exaggeration. Characters have their own story, but they also reappear in the stories of others.

The nature of the landscape is strongly depicted: the whitewashed eucalyptus tree, the shade of a dense bougainevillea, the throaty cooing of the pigeons, rain rattling along the gutters, the smell of fermenting orange peel and cow dung, a cold wind and whispering pine needles, air filled with the fine dust of the desert, the predatory sun, a decapitated mosque, thorns and dry leaves.

All the stories are located in the culture of the kibbutz, and the characters represent its history: the younger members who lack the passion of its founders; the older members who see the importance of the founding principles and mourn their passing; the communal survival work; debates about who owns children; conflict between chicken-keeping and the other work of the kibbutz and higher education.


Although there is a sense of bleakness in many of the stories, there is also a strong sense of people trying to understand themselves and to live their lives well amongst their neighbours, even when there is a wide gap between the beliefs and values of friends.