Today, it’s a very special book review! It’s all about the brilliant new short story collection, Grand Union, by Zadie Smith.
At the moment, I’m in a bit of a Zadie Smith bubble and reading all of her books (more on that in a little while) and this year I’ve become obsessed with short stories and I was so excited to grab a copy of these stories – and what a collection of voices and stories! Here’s the synopsis:
In the summer of 1959, an Antiguan immigrant in north west London lives the last day of his life, unknowingly caught in someone else’s story of hate and division, resistance and revolt.
A mother looks back on her early forays into matters of the human heart – and other parts of the human body – considering the ways in which desire is always an act of negotiation, destruction, and self-invention.
A disgraced cop stands amid the broken shards of his life, unable to move forward into a future that holds no place for him.
Moral panic spreads like contagion through the upper echelons of New York City – and the cancelled people look disconcertingly like the rest of us.
A teenage scion of the technocratic elite chases spectres through a premium virtual reality, trailed by a little girl with a runny nose and no surviving family.
We all take a much-needed break from this mess, on a package holiday where the pool’s electric blue is ceaselessly replenished, while political and environmental collapse happen far away, to someone else.
Interleaving eleven completely new and unpublished stories with some of her best-loved pieces from the New Yorker and elsewhere, Zadie Smith presents a dizzyingly rich and varied collection of fiction. Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us.
As I’ve said, I’m in a bit of a Zadie Smith bubble at the moment and being lost in her words. Part of me feels as if I’ve read all (or some, at least) of her books but I then think is it because she’s so prolific and her covers are always eye-catching? Either way, I’m loving making my way through her novels and then into her essay collections. I’ve recently finished White Teeth (which I loved) and NW (which I also loved but not as much as White Teeth). One of my favourite things about Zadie Smith is her use of language. God, she can write. Her characters are always fully rounded, realistic, jumping from the page. Her dialogue is remarkable and there are sentences I read over and over just because they’re so good. I don’t tend to fold pages in fiction books but I can’t stop myself when reading her writing – everything is just so perfect. And that’s the case in Grand Union, too.
This is Smith’s first collection of short stories – some new and some already published, but her use and passion for language is right at the centre in this novel. I loved reading Smith in the form of a short story and I think they suit her style of writing, so well. The characters are varied and diverse from each other, we explore different genres, places, ideas and they work extremely well together. There is also so much that Smith explores in these stories: family, motherhood, the internet, cancel culture, the personal, the political, identity, sex, love, desire – among, others. They feel like a great piece of writing of our times at the moment. From Brexit to the White House, Smith explores the everyday, the history, and even dystopia, too. Her writing feels fresh, urgent, important and what I took from the book is: the power of language, the power of stories and being united by those stories.
“There is an urge to be good. To be seen as good. To be seen. Also to be. Badness, invisibility, things as they are in reality as opposed to things as they seem, death itself – these are out of fashion.”
– from Now More Than Ever.
Grand Union is a tour-de-force of a short story collection. They all offer something different – some are only a few pages long but still pack a punch. My favourites include: Sentimental Education, The Lazy River, Miss Adele Admits the Corsets, Kelso Deconstructed, Blocked, and Grand Union. But I enjoyed them all in various ways but my god, The Lazy River is my favourite – it really is a masterpiece and I couldn’t get enough of her writing.
I’m loving being in this Zadie Smith bubble with her beautiful writing and wonderful characters. A wonderful, varied, buzzing collection of short stories with voices that need to be heard. I also love the cover and title, Grand Union, doing what it says on the tin – uniting us all by the power of language and a good story. I can’t wait for more.
Also, if you’re looking for a good podcast recommendation and fan of Zadie Smith or want to know more about Grand Union, the Literary Friction podcast with Zadie is a brilliant listen and I can honestly listen to her all day. I loved hearing her talk about writing the book. It really is a brilliant listen and companion to the book.
Have you read Grand Union? Are you a fan of Zadie Smith? Let me know in the comments!