NW

Christian Lorentzen writes:

Zadie Smith’s career has been a 15-year psychodrama. An advance of hundreds of thousands of pounds on a few dozen manuscript pages when she was still at Cambridge made her a celebrity before she was 25. I read White Teethwhile working on the copy desk at Us Weekly; I remember having to check her birthday for a profile and thinking I’d already wasted my life. And she was more glamorous than most of the actresses in the rest of the issue. ‘A genre is hardening,’ James Wood wrote in his review in the New Republic, and suddenly Smith was the epigone of ‘hysterical realism’, the misbegotten progeny of Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie. When he repeated the charge in the Guardian after the 11 September attacks, she responded that the term was ‘painfully accurate’, and mounted a defence of David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo, as if the prescriptive Englishman posed the already canonised Americans a grave threat. ‘We cannot be all the writers all the time,’ she wrote. ‘We can only be who we are … Writers do not write what they want, they write what they can. When I was 21 I wanted to write like Kafka. But, unfortunately for me, I wrote like a script editor for The Simpsonswho’d briefly joined a religious cult and then discovered Foucault.’

(LRB 8 November 2012)

Other Titles of Interest

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Zadie Smith

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From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, ...