Malcolm Bradbury, of The History Man fame, must have had a lot of friends in the world of letters, and he did many of them a favour here, by getting them a few bob for their more lack-lustre efforts. A few writers looked to see what they could find in the backs of their drawers, and a poor collection is what results. Is this really the best of short fiction in the last 50 years? One would hope not. There are though a few notable expectations: Martin Amis, Fay Weldon, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan’s stories are quite good. Enda O’Brien’s story stands out. But in a collection of short stories by writers who are primarily novelists, what should we expect? Better? And I don’t know why he had to drag Beckett into this. Hasn’t he suffered enough? It’s a shame that Malcolm Bradbury never came across the writing of new and exciting writers, at say a creative writing programme? Stories by the likes of Alice Munro, James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield are in a different league to those we are presented with in this volume. However, to be fair, none of the words “good”, “quite good” nor “reasonably good” feature in the title of the collection, so you are getting what it says on the tin. And know that “Penguin” is no guarantee of anything.