‘The Book of Other People’ is about character. Twenty-five or so outstanding writers have been asked by Zadie Smith to make up a fictional character. By any measure, creating character is at the heart of the fictional enterprise, and this book concentrates on writers who share a talent for making something recognizably human out of words (and, in the case of the graphic novelists, pictures).
As the description says, The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories. Compiled by Zadie Smith, the collection is tied together by her simple challenge to the writers; write a character. Sounds easy, right? Believe me, it’s not. The vaguer the brief, the more difficult it can be to write. It’s no surprise, looking at the list of authors, that the characters in this collection are all brilliantly thought out and well rounded. Smith has enlisted some of the best contemporary writers around, including David Mitchell, Nick Hornby, Miranda July, ZZ Packer and Colm Toibin.
While I would have liked a more even gender split (there are 8 stories by women and 14 by men, plus one by Nick Hornby and illustrated by Posy Simmonds), each story is unique and enjoyable. The one that stood out most for me personally was Aleksandar Hemon’s ‘The Liar’. I won’t say too much, but it provided an interesting, if risky retelling of a familiar tale.
The collection starts strong with David Mitchell’s ‘Judith Castle’, and this level of quality doesn’t cease throughout. The writers featured in the collection truly embraced the challenge and did it massive justice.
What are your favourite short stories/short story collections?
See you soon,
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