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Speaking with the Angel Paperback – February 1, 2001
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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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But quite aside from the cause (which is wonderful) there are the stories. Because let’s face it: You don’t want to be guilted into buying a book. You can just as easily donate to TreeHouse and the Child Learning Center or to any other charity directly, after all. I loved most of them. There’s:
Robert Harris’ PMQ-a well-written if for me hard-to read story of a Prime Minister describing his breakdown to the House of Commons,
Melissa Banks’ The Wonder Spot-a wonderful story about a woman discovering that she is living the life she wants,
Giles Smith’s Last Requests- a story about the woman who prepares the last meals for people about to be executed. It’s a story that talks about the meals the condemned want and the meals her late husband ate. That was another one I found hard to read.
Patrick Merber’s Peter Shelley is probably not for everyone. It’s a short story about a teenager’s first, clumsy but eager sexual encounter.
Colin Firth’s The Department of Nothing—about a Grandmother who is dying, wants to go out one more time and gives her grandchild the gift of story-telling, possibly without even meaning to, I found really moving. The whole books is worth it if it was the only good story in it (in my opinion). But of course it isn’t.
Zadie Smith’s-I’m the Only One I didn’t like all that much. But then I am not a big Zadie Smith fan so maybe I’m prejudiced.
Nick Hornby’s NippleJesus was… wonderful. First of all, Nick Hornby so of course it was. But second of all it’s about how modern art and how easy we all are to manipulate. So, wonderful. Another short story that’s worth the whole book.
Dave Eggers’ After I was Thrown in the River and before I Drowned is OK. I really wanted to like it for our dogs’ sakes but it’s just OK.
Ditto for Helen Fielding’s Luckybitch. I really wanted to like this because it’s Helen Fielding but… again, it’s just OK.
Roddy Doyle’s The Slave more than makes up for the preceding two stories. It’s a breathless monologue told by a guy who sees a dead rat and has a midlife crisis. OK, now that I described that, it sounds really dorky but Doyle makes it work.
Irvine Welsh’s Catholic Guilt is hilarious. It’s about a homophobe who is punished by being made to walk the earth as a homosexual ghost.
John O’Farrell’s Walking into the Wind about a Mime artist is just sad. Incredibly well written but really sad. But maybe it’s just that I like happy endings.
So this anthology is filled with (almost) all good stories that are incredibly diverse. Perhaps you can say it’s about contemporary life but that’s about as much of a common theme as there is-which is to say, not much. Still, they’re great stories; the book introduced me to some great authors and it’s a great cause. I recommend it.
Praise also goes to Nick Hornby, Patrick Marber (who perfectly depicts a teenage Brit obsessing over music in the late 1970's ), Giles Smith and Dave Eggers, whose surreal tale told by a dog is an absolute must-read (the last paragraph is stunning).
Overall, a good effort - 7 brilliantly written short stories, 3 not-too-bad ones, and two disappointments. Zadie Smith's story is sloppily written and goes nowhere, while Helen Fielding really ought to stick to diaries of chardonnay-and-cigarette-loving singletons.
I recommend this book for the high quality of those stories I mentioned; and for the 2 dollar donation to schooling for children with autism that is included in the purchase price.
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I found the initiative intelligent.Read more