If you are reader of Zadie Smiths work like myself; you will be excited to know that Zadie Smith has edited a new book called :
The Book of Other People
In a nutshell…
Eclectic mix of authors showcase their different styles and media through the eyes of different characters. The result is a collection that is by turns poignant, comic and thought-provoking, but always engaging.
What it’s all about?
The Book of Other People is simply about character. The 23 authors who each render a character do so in a fantastic variety of ways, from short blurbs (Nick Hornby) through inner monologue (David Mitchell) to pictorial (Chris Ware). Equally the focus of the authors, who were asked to contribute a story each on a character in the name of a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting young creative writers, is similarly varied. In one instance we watch the expiration of a judge (Heidi Julavits), in another the perspective of a paranoid cultural critic (Jonathan Lethem), a giant (Dave Eggers) and, elsewhere, a child (Andrew Sean Greer), a mother (George Saunders) and a monster (Toby Litt).
The variety is one of the hooks and central tenets of the book, but there are some themes which recur. Family, love, loss, sanity and subjectivity are all explored through different eyes, with the one constant – character – exploring the interaction between the individual and the world.
Who’s it by?
Zadie Smith edits, collates and contributes one character; the other authors and their creations comprise the rest of the book in individual chapters:
Nick Hornby with Posy Simmonds
Jonathan Safran Foer
Andrew Sean Greer
As an example…
“I told her with courage and dignity. ‘I am here to bury my husband. Iraq. I’m not at liberty to tell you any more.’ Before my very eyes, she transformed into a real receptionist. She checked if a quieter, more spacious room, away from the conference wing, was available. Lo and behold, it was.”
(Judith Castle, David Mitchell)
“Being known by Magda is a messy and unavoidably carnal experience. All of us neighbours are known by Magda. Last time she knew me, she pushed me up against the side of my car.”
(Magda Madela, Hari Kunzru)
“He was, that first time, in what I would soon learn to call one of his ‘ellipsistic’ moods. Perkus Tooth himself later supplied that descriptive word: ellipsistic, derived from ellipsis. A species of blank interval, a nod or fugue in which he was neither depressed nor undepressed, not struggling to finish a thought or begin one. Merely between. Pause button pushed.”
(Perkus Tooth, Jonathan Lethem)
Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood Blockbuster
There is little doubt that some of the authors here have the potential to make it to the silver screen with their taut mini-plots and skillful, readily identifiable characterisation, but a film of the book as a whole would make for schizophrenic viewing.
What the others say
“If you are looking for the ideal Christmas present for a bookish relative, then look no further than this collection.” (The Scotsman)
So is it any good?
There are some pieces which seem to suggest the author decided not to overdo their contribution and certainly some characters, and indeed authors (Hornby), look insubstantial when placed in comparison with others. However, this is testament to the quality and variety of the authors on display. The chapters each have their own particular allure and the chocolate-box nature of the book adds to the pleasure of starting a new one.
As an introduction to some of modern fiction’s finest authors – Smith, Mitchell, Eggers – it captures the style and focus of their work, as well as offering a self-contained set of polished stories.
For those unfamiliar with genres such as Chris Ware’s poignant comic strip – to which I add myself – it is a fascinating snapshot of different approaches and reading the book is likely to spark a rash of purchases, as readers follow up their favourites and those they have not previously been acquainted with.
Reading the book is like walking through the National Portrait Gallery: some of the pictures you recognise, some are less familiar; some are in brilliant colour; some monochrome; some old, some new; some funny, some sad – but all done with a deft hand.
Published by Penguin, out November 1st, 287 pages, £16.99.