Book Review: Grand Union by Zadie Smith

Grand Union – Zadie Smith (Penguin Press, 2019)

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book. All opinions are my own.

I’ve read three other books by Zadie Smith and have always sort of generally enjoyed her writing but never been quite wowed by it. (My unpopular opinion is that I liked The Embassy of Cambodia better than her longer works.) That said, I couldn’t resist a chance to read Smith’s new short story collection (due out October 8, 2019). Even when Smith isn’t fantastic, she is still very good.

I like short stories a lot and this collection doesn’t disappoint. It’s startling in its variety. There are stories set in London, New York, Paris. Stories set in the future, in a (not quite) alternate version of the present. Each story says something interesting and thoughtful about our own world and society. While the characterization isn’t that strong in the individual stories, they felt like they made a strong, cohesive whole. Even though each is a stand-alone story, the collection all together makes a strong statement about what matters to us today.

There is a drag queen shopping for a corset, a sheltered but powerful boy in a somewhat dystopian future who stumbles into a wake, there are Michael and Marlon and Liz escaping from New York after disaster. There are middle class Brits on vacation in Spain and an ex-cop having a Big Week! Some of the stories are quite funny, primarily in their sharp observations and truths about human nature. Michael and Marlon and Liz may be recognizable figures but they’re also recognizable because they’re people and we see ourselves in their responses.

Reading this collection, it occurs to me that Smith’s voice and style only gets stronger with each book. These stories seem to point her in a new direction and I’m excited to see where she goes next.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Grand Union by Zadie Smith”

    1. You should! You might like it. I’ve found her novels a little too long (not in page number just content) but enjoyed this collection. It has a good variety to it.

    1. I feel like this would be a good place to start since short stories are a relatively easy commitment! But people do love her novels too so who knows what might end up appealing to you!

  1. Great review! I haven’t read Zadie Smith yet but she’s been on my TBR for ages… I keep thinking I want to start with White Teeth, but it’s a bit long which puts me off more than it should. Maybe starting with a story collection would get me more invested in picking up her longer works. This one sounds fantastic!

    1. Try this one out! She is more experimental here and tries on a greater variety of voices/stories than I think she displays in her novels but it will likely give you a good sense of whether or not you want to hear more!

  2. My feelings about her is that her writing can be really strong and interesting, such as in White Teeth, but then she takes a left turn with the plot and I lose interest. She did the same thing in On Beauty. I want her to be successful, but I feel like there’s just a point when the book rolls over.

    1. Yes! That is a great articulation of how I’ve felt about her novels. That’s what I liked about these stories. There is that strength and interest but they aren’t long enough to give in to that lag that I’ve found in her longer works.

  3. I think short stories are a great way to approach new authors! I’ve never read Zadie Smith, but I’m always interested in checking out popular authors just to see if I feel the same as others.

    1. I agree! They’re a pretty low-level commitment but often very worthwhile and can give a good sense of what an author is like. I think I’m in the minority when it comes to Zadie Smith because she is well-loved by many. Maybe you’ll enjoy her too!

  4. I feel quite the same about Zadie Smith, tried Swing Time last year and just couldn’t get through it, but then read North West and enjoyed it. Need to give some of her essay’s and short stories a go next for sure

    1. I haven’t read Smith’s essays but this short story collection might work for you! Glad to hear I’m not alone on my feelings about her novels!

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