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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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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