Review Wednesday – The Book of Other People

 

‘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.

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Ten Minutes.

Ten minutes left. The man sighed, putting his book down. He’d been checking the clock every thirty seconds anyway; whatever he’d actually read had already been forgotten. The ticking seemed to get louder and louder, a harsh reminder of how long he’d been waiting and how slowly time seemed to be moving.

He got up and went to the kitchen – there was no clock in there. The silence was a welcome break, but he was still itching to check the time. He flicked the kettle on and sat at the small table, simultaneously trying to remember when he’d last sat there and wondering when he’d sit there again. He pulled the crumpled kit list out of his trouser pocket and went through it, picturing each item in his bag.

Seven minutes left. He sat back in his armchair with his tea and opened his book again, determined to forget about the time and focus on the story.

Reader, have you ever had to wait for something? Have you ever felt like time slowed down, just so you’d have to wait longer?

Yes, he thought. Spooky.

Janice Willow is the type of person this happens to a lot. Purely by chance, I suppose – it’s just her luck. Janice is our protagonist, you see – hence my asking. It helps for the reader to relate to a protagonist; or so they tell me.

He put the book down. Five minutes. He’d tried, at least. Never could get on board with this meta-fiction lark; it always just seemed pretentious and complicated to him. He sipped his tea and, upon realising that it was the perfect temperature, subsequently drank the whole thing in a few large gulps.

Three minutes. He read the blurb of the book, rolling his eyes and tossing it onto the coffee table. His daughter had recommended it, said he should get back into reading more literary texts. Personally, he was quite happy with his detective novels; and who said Agatha Christie wasn’t literary, anyway?

He got up again and went to the toilet, picking up his shoes from by the front door on his way back to the armchair. Somehow only a minute had passed. He rolled his eyes, tying his shoelaces up slowly.

One minute left. He washed his mug up and left it on the draining board – future him would probably be annoyed, but that wasn’t his problem.

He hoped his companion would be on time. He didn’t like lateness as it was, but this was especially important. He’d been waiting for this moment for years; ever since Esther died, or so he told himself. In reality, he’d wanted to escape long before that day. She’d been so ill, and he’d worked so hard to give her everything. He’d never want her to think she was a burden; the day she passed was the first break he’d had in two years, but he’d have given anything to have her back. Thirty seconds.

There was a knock at the door and his heart leaped – time to go.


She

A/N: So I actually wrote this a while ago for an assignment but as I’ve been really busy this weekend (I’m sure you’ll hear all about it!). It’s really dark (again), so I apologise -we’ll have something happy soon, I promise!

See you soon,

Ro x 

TW: Self-Harm 

I take a deep breath and open the box. There she is, staring at me. She’s always been there, watching. I never thought the day would come that I would need her touch again; I thought I could live without her, but she knew better. She has waited patiently in the darkness, knowing that I’d take comfort in her vigilance. She’s addictive, and she knows I can’t stay away.

I pick her up, the cold stinging my skin. It’s seductive, sensual even. I almost manage a smile for my old friend. She’s as smooth as she was the last time we met, and still as sharp. The light dances off her as I move her around, inspecting her carefully. She’s mocking me, daring me to just try it once more, just one tiny touch. I hesitate. I know that if I do this, I can’t turn back. I won’t be able to let go, and I’ll fall once again. I wipe my eyes, and let her stroke my arm. Fuck the consequences.

It’s just a gentle touch, at first. She glides along, teasing me with her kisses. A tiny drop of blood appears and I sigh – she’s won.  She nuzzles deeper into my skin, running faster with every stroke. I throw my head back, the pain taking over. My thoughts and feelings leak out with every streamer of red. There’s nothing now; nothing but me, and her, and the pain. I run the tap and watch the red swim faster. The water fades to a pale pink and eventually runs clear as the bleeding stops. I turn off the tap, let the last of the water drain, and drop her in the sink, wrapping a towel around my arm. She glints in the light; one last flirty wink. Red is her colour, and she knows it. I try and ignore that nagging feeling of regret, and enjoy the brief sense of relief she’s given me.

I take a quick peek at my arm. Harsh, burgundy claw marks tear through the porcelain white skin – glaringly ugly, damning evidence. It looks as though something, someone, is stuck under there, implanted in my body, trying to escape. I suppose, in a way, that’s the truth.


The Nostalgia Trip

A/N: This got a lot darker than I intended, hope you enjoy all the same. -Ro x

 

Tap, tap, tap, tap. She walks slowly, becoming increasingly aware of the sound of her shoes against the terracotta tiles. Her breathing is laboured; she’s walked these halls so many times, yet everything has changed now. It’s almost pitch black, she’s never seen the place this dark before. If she shut her eyes she’d be able to picture exactly where she is, but that’s not an option – closed eyes would open her up to weakness. She keeps close to the wall on her right, and as she imagines the peeling blue paint her shoulder brushes up against one of the many posters they’d tacked over the scruffiest parts of the walls. She puts her hand on it, and knows exactly which one it is. It’s advertising a cake sale, the last one they’d ever had – she felt the roughness of glitter under her fingertips. She’s not far.
She keeps on, passing a set of double doors to her left. She ducks, crossing over to the left hand side of the corridor as she passes a large window – she’s too close to risk putting herself in any danger. Finally, she gets to the second set of double doors. She slips through them quietly, finding herself in the hallway she knows all too well. She can’t see it, but she can picture it vividly – the looming cast iron staircase to her right, the battered radiator to her left. It was always getting repainted before, but it probably hadn’t been touched in years. She smiles as she remembers the alcove under the stairs, and can’t help herself.
Instead of going directly up the stairs to her destination, she creeps towards the alcove. She leans against the cool wall, as she had done so many times before. She breathes deeply, letting herself relax for just a moment – but even that is too long. She feels the cold metal barrel of a gun against the left side of her head. The bearer of the gun steps close to her, and she’s not surprised that she knows who it is instantly. The body heat that used to be such a comfort burns her as his familiar smell makes her gag.
‘I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers our first kiss. You always were nostalgic, Callie.’ She hears a short release of breath as he smirks. ‘Silly little girl.’ He pulls the trigger.