Grand Union by Zadie Smith
There is something delicious about picking up a collection of short stories knowing that each one will take the reader on a wonderful journey. This is Zadie Smith’s first published collection of short stories. Her novels are well known. She won numerous awards for her first novel, White Teeth, including the Whitbread First Novel Award. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She grew up in North West London, the child of a Jamaican born mother and an English father.
The topics covered in this collection are far ranging. In the first story, The Dialectic, we drop in on a mother and her teenage daughter sitting on the beach in a place called Sopot. I confess I had to google where that was. It’s in Poland, a seaside town. Mother and daughter (nameless) are having a conversation about animal welfare amongst other things, but that is just on the surface. There is a lot going on, and in her wonderfully descriptive way Smith reveals a great deal about these people, their relationships and attitudes. In only a few pages we get a snapshot of this woman’s life. The twist at the end of the story is quite unexpected.
In Escape From New York we join Elizabeth, Marlon and Michael who are getting out of the city after the 911 attacks. They are ‘important’ people, yet none of this matters any more as their lives are turned upside down. Sitting in a roadside fast food joint, watching tv, like everybody else, they find comfort in their friendship. The basis for this story comes from an interview in Vanity Fair with Elizabeth Taylor’s former personal assistant. This may or may not be an urban myth, but Zadie Smith turns it into a very interesting tale.
The thing about Zadie Smith’s writing is that it is so clever. All of the stories are so different and it is the sort of book you can pick up and dip into, time and time again. That’s probably the best way to read it. Sit down and be absorbed one story at a time. Then pause and let it all sink in.
It’s wonderful writing and is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Rachel White
Hamish Hamilton $35