Lydia Davis is famous for the concision of her works, which display a playfulness and profundity that belies their brevity. Over the course of several decades, she has carved out a distinctive niche in the literary world, and her triumph at the 2013 Man Booker International Prize was the culmination of a quiet but inexorable rise.
Lydia Davis has devoted much of her literary career to the short story, a form she has reduced to little more than a sentence in some of her most concise works. Her stories function and thrive on their sparseness, which leaves wide open spaces in which readers infer their own meaning, resonance and often, plot. They eschew conventional means of climax and equilibrium, which are usually so central to the short story form. Instead, the stories present oblique gaps, lacunae in which the reader is left puzzled or bemused by an insinuation of meaning that is never made clear.
At times, Davis’ stories reflect the experience of modern life, in which snippets of information filter through to us without context or significance, and we are left to impute meaning from a fragment. Davis mines that typical modern experience, offering only tantalising glimpses of a story, of plot, character and progression. Her admission at the 2013 Hay Festival that she is considering writing fiction on Twitter thus makes perfect sense, as it is the ultimate embodiment of both the superficiality and frenzy of our current fetish for communication.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Davis is also famous as a translator, and has published translations of the first volume of Proust’s A la Recherché du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) as well as works by Flaubert and Blanchot. Her work as a translator perhaps informs her own writing’s acute clarity and carefully constructed form, and she has stated in an interview that she sees her style as a reaction to Proust’s long sentences. Whereas Proust layers meaning upon meaning, Davis scrapes it away, and leaves spaces which we must fill in as readers.
Davis’ work is experimental in the best sense of the word, in that it plays with the basic building blocks of literary meaning, reducing them to their more essential selves and letting them work without the scaffolding of plot, context or conventionally delineated character. However her short stories avoid becoming esoteric or difficult through their playfulness and subtlety, which gives them an accessibility that most experimental fiction lacks. Her humour is often ribald, sometimes ironic, and at times a side effect of her works’ own inscrutable nature. Her work is also deeply humanistic and concerned with the vagaries of perception and identity, and the compromises and negotiations that identity undergoes in an individual’s day to day existence.
In many ways her stories are closer to poetry and philosophy than to prose, sharing with poetry the capacity to imbue a line with more significance than its direct referent might suggest, and with a philosophical epigram the ability to provoke contemplation.
This was the quality that was cited when she won the Man Booker International Prize in May 2013; upon announcing the winner Professor Sir Christopher Ricks commented that ‘Lydia Davis’s writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorise them? Should we simply concur with the official title and dub them stories? Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations?’
This difficulty in categorising her works perhaps explains her relatively slow ascent to international literary acclaim. Born in Massachusetts in 1947, she published her first collection of short stories, The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories, in 1976, and went on to publish a succession of celebrated collections, and a novel, The End of the Story, over the course of the next few decades. These would garner her critical acclaim but not a particularly wide audience. She was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1986 for Break It Down and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997. Throughout this period the slow burn of her growing acclaim continued and she developed a reputation as a ‘writer’s writer’, with current luminaries such as Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen citing the uniquely self-conscious quality of her work and her innovation within the strict confines of the short story form. The publication of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in 2009 saw this critical attention blossom and allowed her to find the wider audience she deserved. Being awarded the Man Booker International continues this steady rise and will hopefully reveal her playful yet powerful works to a new audience that will discover and appreciate the uniquely haunting and powerful quality of a Davis’ sentence.
By Thomas Storey
Images courtesy: 1: Four Colman Getty/Photo by Janie Airey, 2: Penguin Books, 3: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.