Publication Date: 11th July 2019
The lovely Becca from Unbound contacted me to see if I would be interested in reading and reviewing Others edited by Charles Fernyhough and to be honest I very nearly said no.
I had recently read and absolutely ADORED Common People, a collection of short stories, memoir, and poetry edited by Kit De Waal on the subject of what it means to be working class and I was unsure whether I could enjoy another anthology or collection as much as this one. Could I really strike gold a second time?
Others is a collection of stories, poems, memoir and essays around what it means to be ‘other’ and the power of words to allow people to step into the shoes of people who are considered ‘other’ in some way, be that through disability, race, sexual orientation, mental health issues etc. Also it addresses this very interesting idea which has garnered some attention over the past few years that authors cannot write a story about a group of people or types of people that they have no experience of themselves.
I have to be completely honest and say that when I see the word ‘essay’ or even ‘poetry’ I doubt myself and have a real dose of imposter syndrome.
If it’s essays and poetry I won’t be able to understand it, will I?
I’m not clever enough.
It’s not a book for the likes of me.
I’ll have to pretend I understood it.
And herein lay the crux of my reticence with this book.
But I gave myself a shake when I read the list of amazing writers who have contributed to the book.
And many more.
To be honest they were the only impetus I needed to say yes.
I’m so glad I did.
Others is split into 3 sections. The first entitled The Stranger Self which explores how meeting people with ‘otherness’ in whatever way, is a driving force for shedding light on how we ourselves appear to other people.
In this section we hear from someone who interprets an encounter in a pizza fast food chain as a casual act of racism against himself, and his assimilation of feelings on that. We hear from Colin Grant who is black but does t sound black and how the response from others in this regard has made him perceive his own identity.
The piece which really took me aback in this section was ‘Fast As Lightning’ by Peter Ho Davies in which he recounts a very high profile racist attack in which one man dies and his friend is left questioning his own loyalties not only to his friend but to his own race.
The second section is entitled ‘Not Like Me’ and here the pieces deal with how we react to people who don’t conform with what we consider to be ‘normal’ in our culture, whatever that may be.
In this section Damian Barr’s story ‘Look Not With The Eyes’ tells of a young man on the periphery but trying to conform until he gets drawn into the mesmerising world of a group of travelling actors and coming to terms with his potential ‘otherness’. In ‘Excuse Me, Your Otherness Is Showing’ Joanne Limburg deals with being given a late diagnosis of Aspergers and making sense of this. Almost giving people a reason to react the way they do to something being ‘not quite right’ about her and in the absence of any obvious disability as such, being able to label her.
The final section ‘A Tardis Of Souls’ celebrates how literature can force us into different shoes, different experiences and different points of view. In ‘Tuesday Lunch’ a young girl struggles against the differences between her school life, her home life and her religion. In A L Kennedy’s ‘Points For Lost Children’ a suffering homeless woman experiences the human kindness of a complete stranger who empathises with her struggles.
Kamila Shamsie’s piece ‘The A-Z Of An Earthquake Zone’ is extremely hard hitting in not only it’s content but the way in which brutal facts and deep human suffering are laid out in the form of a simplistic A-Z list. The two almost jarring against each other to elicit such an emotional response.
In fact many of the pieces in this collection made me feel emotional. As I reader I was almost whipped up and placed down firmly in the shoes of these ‘Others’. Just when I thought I was getting to grips with one persons story or message I was whisked away to another setting, another point of view, another struggle, another triumph.
I will be entirely honest and transparent and say that not all of the pieces resonated with me, particularly the pieces surrounding politics, and some of the poetry which I found slightly difficult to understand. I’m not great with poetry but I could appreciate it for what it was and I don’t think it was necessary for me to have understood it completely.
I enjoyed the wide ranging view points, be they in terms of race, disability, mental health, heritage, culture etc. This collection is a fascinating insight into what it means to be considered ‘other’ either be society or by yourself. How people react to otherness that they don’t quite comprehend and how this affects their behaviour.
It’s a highly emotional collection. A piece to get you thinking, empathising and understanding what it means to be ‘other’.
I read it in 2 sittings and can thoroughly recommend it. A very cleverly curated collection and the great thing is that after publication costs all net profits from the book will be donated to Stop Hate UK which works to raise awareness of hate crime.
Thank you to the lovely Becca at Unbound for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx