The L&L Blog  /  Rants and Miscellanea

When I was teaching at Harvard, darlings...

In today's Grauniad, Zadie Smith writes about the "genesis" of her recent Booker-prize winning novel, On Beauty. Some quotes:

"Public accounts [of how a book begins] tend to have a fictional texture - this is not to say they're untrue, but they are writerly explanations, fished from the sea that is the book itself."

"The clues to the more personal elements of that process are in the writer's private past, the subconscious family romances that return you to the same ideas over and over. I'm too superstitious to unpick those..."

"The larger clues are on the shelves and piled up on the desk. In the case of On Beauty, these books were old favourites, because I was teaching them at Harvad. Nabakov, Forster, Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, Paula Fox, John Updike, WG Sebald..."

"With a brazen ahistoricism I can't intellecutally defend..."

"When I was writing, I thought the comic tautology and sheer metaphysical weirdness of..."

"My sympathy is with old-fashioned existentialism; it is the struggle to 'be' that interests me when I write; to 'be' without mediation or self-delusion."

Bollocks, more like.

She goes on to quote (predictably) David Foster Wallace (she is clearly proud that she has read his tomb stone of a book that normal people file away on their shelves next to Ulysses - that is, if they are strong enough to hawk it home from the bookshop).

Smith wrote half a good book - the first half of White Teeth. The second half was utter crap; I can only speculate that this may have been the result of her getting a lucrative and infamous publishing deal halfway through writing it. The Autograph Man was utter tosh and I could only bear to read the first three chapters. Perhaps I should give On Beauty a chance, but pretentious writing like this only alienates me even more. Anyone can throw in a clever-sounding quote, see:

Good writers have two things in common: they prefer to be understood rather than admired; and they do not write for knowing and over-acute readers.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Something of which Smith would do well to take heed. Until then, she should be locked in a room with A.S. Byatt, the other chief Grauniad-favoured prolix bag of wind, and have a camera pointed at them with a direct feed to the world's living rooms so that we can all learn how to say very little in a large number of incredibly lengthy words (apart from the most frequent word you would hear from their mouths, which would, of course, be "I").


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