I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Telling Tales

Grand Union: Stories, by Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton, 256 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0241337028 The arrival of Zadie Smith’s debut short story collection, Grand Union, feels extremely timely; for its complex narrativisation of modern life simultaneously questions the role of fiction in an era of “post-truth” politics. This compilation is a self-reflexive exercise whereby Smith exposes the tension between aesthetics and politics in fictional narrative, and considers its potential to be either productive or problematic. Her new story “Kelso Deconstructed” addresses this paradox via the figure of a poet-orator declaiming from atop a soapbox: “The thing about narrative,” said the speaker, on the crate, “is that it is inherently inauthentic. It is prearranged information in a certain pattern. It will always have a motive. It will always be a manipulation … if it comes from the right, well, then we call it propaganda, and if from the left we tend to consider it not only humane but beautiful. It matters very much who the ‘we’ is in this proposition.” This scene takes place in Hyde Park’s famed Speakers’ Corner, an open-air space for public speaking and debate. Historically a platform for an international cast of writers and revolutionaries such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, George Orwell, CLR James, Walter Rodney, Ben Tillett and Marcus Garvey, Speakers’ Corner was frequented by a range of Londoners. Smith reimagines a day in the lives of two such people, Notting Hill residents Kelso and Olivia Cochrane, who attend the Sunday afternoon session before Kelso is killed later that night. The story is based on real-life events surrounding the murder of Afro-Caribbean immigrant Kelso Cochrane in 1959, a year after the Notting Hill race riots occurred. Fuelled by fascist ideologies, a group of “white youths” who “liked to make trouble for spades” accosted Cochrane on the street, stabbed him and fled. Smith’s treatment of “free speech” in the postwar, post-Windrush period illustrates the power of political rhetoric to alter the fabric of society ‑ a point which is acutely relevant to our current moment. This keen awareness of narrative as a sociopolitical force is the greatest strength of Smith’s writing, which is at once characterised by immediacy and deep historical resonances. The best of her stories showcase her capacity to harness this force in order to facilitate an intense moment of perception for both the author and the reader. In the foreword to her essay collection Feel…



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