David Mitchell, Daniel Clowes, A. L. Kennedy, ZZ Packer, Andrew O’Hagan, Zadie Smith, Nick Hornby, Edwidge Danticat, Aleksandar Hemon, Chris Ware, Hari Kunzru, Toby Litt, Adam Thirlwell, Heidi Julavits, George Saunders, Safran Foer, Vendela Vida, Miranda July, A. M. Homes, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Colm Tóibín, Sean Greer

The Book of Other People

© 2007


The Book of Other People is about character. The instruction was simple: make somebody up. Each story was to be named after its character: ‘Donal Webster’ by Colm Tóibín, ‘Cindy Stubenstock’ by A. M. Homes, ‘Frank’ by A. L. Kennedy, and so on. When the commission was sent out, there were no rules about gender, race or species. This freedom resulted in ‘The Monster’ by Toby Litt and ‘Puppy’ by George Saunders. Late in the making of this book I tried to make a case for first and last names, for reasons of uniformity. The idea was not popular. Reproduced here is Edwidge Danticat’s protest, convincing in its simplicity: ‘I think the variety of names is good. It makes it less monotonous-looking. Since people are named different things by different people.’ Surnames have not been forced upon Danticat’s ‘Lélé’ or Adam Thirlwell’s ‘Nigora’ or on any others who did not want them. In one case, the omitted last name is the deliberate secret upon which the story hinges. In another – to use a distinction of Simone Weil’s – the character is a sacred human being and not a ‘person’ or ‘personality’, and his particular name is not important.

There are twenty-three stories in this volume, too many to mention individually. Each is its own thing entirely. The book has no particular thesis or argument to convey about fictional character. Nor is straight ‘realism’ or ‘naturalism’ – if such things exist – the aim.

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