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Speaking with the Angel Paperback – February 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

There are lots of reasons to buy Speaking with the Angel, an anthology of first-person narratives by bright, young, mostly British literati: these are smart and original stories, none of them previously published elsewhere. What's more, it's for a good cause. Nick Hornby, editor of the collection and author of one of the pieces, has an autistic son, and in a raw and wrenching introduction he stresses the importance of educational institutions to serve such children, who "have no language, and no particular compulsion to acquire it, who are born without the need to explore the world." Accordingly, a portion of each sale benefits autism charities around the world.

Still, this is a collection that stands on its own merits, and requires no act of charity to purchase. In Roddy Doyle's "The Slave," for example, a 42-year-old family man discovers a dead rat on his kitchen floor, and this unwelcome incursion from the natural world plunges him into a midlife crisis. In "Last Requests," Giles Smith introduces us to a prison cook who specializes in, well, last suppers. It's both hilarious and shocking to encounter this egomaniacal chef on the job:

They can have what they like, within reason, up to a maximum of three courses, with coffee or tea and a piece of confectionary or a biscuit if they want it. No alcohol, for obvious reasons. Obviously, you'll get the jokers, like the one who said he wanted a whole roast pig with an apple in its mouth. Or the governor's head, one of them said he wanted.
Elsewhere, in Hornby's own "NippleJesus," a skinhead bouncer becomes a museum guard and falls for the painting he's charged to protect, a crucifixion collage made up of thousands of tiny breasts cut out of porn magazines. The stories in Speaking with the Angel all feel up to the minute, abounding with references to politics and popular culture. Yet the obscenity and slang ultimately amount to a form of bluster, an acknowledgement of the intrinsic fragility that all 12 of these narrators share. --Victoria Jenkins

From Publishers Weekly

A virtual who's who of the latest literary guard, this anthology bristles with the crackly talent and confidence of both the newly and the already fabulous. Included are Hornby himself, Melissa Bank, Dave Eggers, Helen Fielding and Zadie Smith, as well as veteran favorites Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh. Every story is told in the first person, and the voices are consistent, fresh, particular. Though some tales veer toward the trendy side of topical, each one surprises and entertains. Eggers's "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned" is told by a pit bull whose anthropomorphized sensibilities and phraseology are quite lovely. Patrick Marber treads on familiar turf in "Peter Shelley," a defloration/coming-of-age story told in a blend of irreverence and awe that seems new. In "Last Requests," Giles Smith imagines some moments in the career of a Death Row chef who does her best to satisfy the inmates' final culinary wants. And Roddy Doyle further ennobles his reputation with "The Slave," in which an anxious, literate, working-class father suffers a mid-life reckoning with a large dead rat in his kitchen. None of these 12 stories disappoints. (Feb. 6) Forecast: An imaginative cover-featuring painted doll-like ceramic busts of the icontributors-will catch browsers' eyes, as will Hornby's name at the top of the jacket. The should sell snappily if prominently displayed, and perhaps more so if it becomes known that some portion of the profits will go to TreeHouse, a British school for autistic children's.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st Riverhead trade paperback ed edition (February 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573228583
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573228589
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Hornby is the author of the novels A Long Way Down, How to Be Good (a New York Times bestseller), High Fidelity, and About a Boy, and of the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and editor of the short-story collection Speaking with the Angel. He is also the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award, and the Orange Word International Writers London Award 2003.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By V. Gelczis on February 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Here's a short story collection that gives you a fantastic collection of contemporary authors (and one actor/author) who donated their stories for a very worthy cause--a school for autistic children. I bought it because I'm a Nick Hornby fan (and also a Helen Fielding, Colin Firth, and Dave Eggers fan)--but now I've been introduced to more writers to explore and enjoy. Hornby gives a nice intro about his personal and poignant connection with the cause.
These stories run the gamut and are really fun--coming of age tales, unusual narrators (like dogs, humiliated prime ministers, and death-row cooks), and stories that ask the big question: "What is art?" They're fresh, provocative, and often humorous.
Do yourself and a good cause a favor and get this book. It's at the top of my list for gift-giving this year.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hank Waddles on May 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
The first thing you should do when you pick up this collection of short stories is to read Nick Hornby's touching introduction. A portion of the proceeds for this book goes to support schools for autistic children, and in his introduction Hornby reveals that his own son is autistic. He goes on to describe what life is like living with an autistic child, and why quality schools are so essential. If you have a heart, you'll already be half-way to the register before you've even checked the list of authors, but you won't be disappointed.
Hornby has assembled an all-star team of emerging young writers, most of whom hail from the UK. Actor Colin Firth pens a sort of twisted fairy tale in "The Department of Nothing." Giles Smith gives a portrait of a cook for deathrow inmates. Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones) checks in with an expectedly sarcastic mother/daughter relationship study. American Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) writes from a dog's point of view in "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Was Drowned." Melissa Bank's romantic tale, "The Wonder Spot," was one of my favorites, and Irvine Welsh's unsettling commentary on homophobia, "Catholic Guilt," was also interesting. Hornby himself examines the different effects a work of art can have on people in "Nipple Jesus." Other contributing authors are Robert Harris, Patrick Marber, Zadie Smith, Roddy Doyle, and John O'Farrell. This is quite a collection.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a female sports author and a music lover, I have found Mr. Hornby's previous books enjoyable, engaging, and at times, from a Red Sox fan and a woman's perspective, infuriating. (Please, no Arsenal fan has ever undergone the misery of a Boston Red Sox fan. Eighteen years between championships? Try 83. ) However, after I read the deeply moving introduction to this book, I found it hard to recognize the self absorbed, obsessive compulsive fan from his memoir Fever Pitch. As the godmother to an autistic child, I could relate to Mr. Hornby's respect for his child's mysterious, inner world and his joy over his child's ability, against the odds, to form a friendship with another human being. I have recommended this book simply for the introduction to friends to whom I have tried to explain the complexities of my goddaughter's autism. This introduction succeeds where my words have failed. The book is obviously far more than its introduction. The criteria for author selection appears to be whoever was cool in the late 90's or early 00's: Dave Eggers, Melissa Bank, Helen Fielding, Colin Firth. The collection's "gimmick" is that all stories are told from the first person. Some authors succeed better than others. I enjoyed Melissa Banks short story far more than her book; Helen Fielding's far less than her Bridget Jones's series. I found Mr. Hornby's story quite refreshing from his other published work (which I like)--he used a very different voice. Finally, Colin Firth's story was whimsical and wonderful. Like his performance in so many films (A month in the Country was my favorite), it begins in a low key, quiet manner yet it hits you hard at the end.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are a few good bits in this collection of stories by today's best-known young (mostly British) authors. Nick Hornby's "NippleJesus" is my favorite thing he has ever written, and Hornby is one of my favorite authors. Also good is a story by Colin Firth, an actor who really should write more often. The best story in the set is narrated by a cook in a prison's kitchen, who has the chore of preparing last meals for the condemned. But many of the rest are poor. The wonderful and brilliant Dave Eggers submits a gimmicky story narrated by a dog. It seems like he had the clever idea of such a story, but couldn't make it do anything but roll over and play dead. And Helen Fielding, who I'd never read before and don't plan to ever read again, submits a piece that proves why so many of my acquaintances find her irritating.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
This quick-reading collection of twelve original (ie. unpublished elsewhere) short stories was compiled by editor Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy, Fever Pitch) as a benefit book (proceeds going to schools specializing in the needs of autistic children), but don't let that stop you from enjoying it. It's an excellent introduction to a number of the more popular younger writers coming out of the UK and a few from the US.
Not surprisingly, my favorite stories were those by authors I already knew and liked, and were very representative of their styles. Editor Hornby's story of a bouncer turned museum guard dealing with a provocative piece of art pokes a stick in the eye of pretentious Saatchi collection art types. Irvine Welsh's "Catholic Guilt" starts as a very basic "two mates and a bar" story, with his usual command of dialogue, only to veer into something totally unexpected. Roddy Doyle's "The Slave," is an understated tale of a man who has a minor mid-life crisis sparked by discovery of a dead rat in his kitchen, and it fits in with all his Barrytown novels. Playwright Patrick Marber's "Peter Shelly" is a great little story about teenage love, and I hope to see some more fiction by him soon. Robert Harris's "PMQ" is a very droll statement before Parliament by a Prime Minister trying to account for one bizarre night. I'd only read his thriller "Archangel," which this is completely different from.
I wasn't as taken with the rest of the stories, particularly actor Colin Firth's story "The Department of Nothing" or the Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Melissa Bank (The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing) pieces. But then again, I suspect that women may find more to connect with in the latter two than I did.
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