The Guardian‘s short story podcast series includes a reading by Philip Pullman of Chekhov’s ‘The Beauties’. Here’s what Philip has to say about it:
A schoolboy is accompanying his grandfather as they drive in their carriage along a dusty road across the steppe on a sultry August day. They stop for refreshment at the house of an Armenian friend of the grandfather. The boy, the grandfather and their Ukrainian driver are all struck by the beauty of the Armenian’s daughter.
Some years later, now a student, the boy is on a train that stops for some minutes at a country station. He gets out to stretch his legs, and sees a girl on the platform talking to someone in one of the carriages. She is very beautiful.
And that’s all. Is that a story? It’s about as spare and empty of plot as a story could be; two impressions that barely even amount to anecdote. Like Waiting for Godot, it’s a story in which nothing happens, twice.
But it shows how little a short story needs a plot. I like plots, and I work at them a lot; perhaps that’s one reason why I’ve never written a successful short story. The greatness of this one depends on more impalpable things. Chekhov’s genius lies in the way he manages to convey with such apparent effortlessness a profound sense of the mystery of beauty, and of the sadness of those who observe and think. The narrator of this apparently inconsequential tale fixes on exactly the right details, from a myriad of possible ones, to strike at the heart. It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.
The reading is available to download as an mp3 here.