Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

"The Book of Other People" by Zadie Smith (ed) (Penguin 2007)

23 character-based stories denoted by well-known writers. Two are graphic stories, one includes illustrations. I've read A.L.Kennedy's "Frank" before. Smith's own "Hanwell Snr" appealed to me at its end

He had known weeks earlier that his father's death was imminent - he did not go to him. Twenty years later, Hanwell's son would not go to Hanwell when his hour came. It happens that in th couse of my professional duties I am often found making the statement 'I don't believe in patterns.' A butterfly on a pin has no idea what a pretty shape it makes.
'He never settled,' said Hanwell, 'and now he's come to the end of the road,' a quaint metaphor, like those that Borges enjoyed, and we, equally, interpreted it literally, thinking of brighton pier, Brighton being Hanwell country for us, and the place where Hanwell's people generally died. When I was a kid, I had a dream - never forgotten! - of the cool, flat Brighton pebbles being placed over my body, as the Jews place stones on top of the dead

Stories by Danticat, Kunzru, Julavits, Lethem and George Sanders had their moments too, though there were more disappointments than delights. Vendela Vida's "Soleil" was perhaps the most successful - "'Oh, there you are,' Gabrielle's mother said, as though she was addressing a pair of misplaced sunglasses that had turned up" (p.192).

Other reviews

  • Miciko Kakutani (New York Times) Other tales in this volume feel overly pat or mechanically perfunctory, as if they’d been tossed off to complete an annoying assignment.
  • Eithne Farry (Marie Claire) the overal effect is a little lacklustre
  • Alex Clark (The Observer) standout stories from Edwidge Danticat, Heidi Julavits, AM Homes and Colm Toibin ... half a dozen of these stories were first published in the New Yorker
  • John Self

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