Disappointing Sophomore Novel In Review: The Autograph Man

February 24, 2020 Uncategorized 2 ★★

Disappointing Sophomore Novel In Review: The Autograph ManTitle: The Autograph Man
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads

Summary: This lacked the depth, interesting human dynamics, and complex themes of Smith’s first book.

I’ve read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth twice and both times, I was blown away by her writing style. I was hooked from the beginning by the complicated family and friend dynamics she portrayed. The multilayered prose was as impressive as her exploration of significant themes, such as immigration and racism. In this sophomore novel about Alex-Li, a man who sells celebrity autographs, all of those strengths were missing. The plot never grabbed me. Except for a brief period in the middle of the book, nothing interesting happened. Alex-Li has a complicated romantic life and obsesses over the autograph of a minor forties actress. And that’s really all I have to say about the plot. There were still flashes of brilliance in the writing – clever metaphors or detailed descriptions that gave a scene real texture – but overall, the writing didn’t impress me much either.

In theory, the author is exploring the meaning of fame and whether authenticity matters if you can’t tell something is a fake. Unfortunately, engagement with these topics felt purely superficial. As I’ve read her books and some reviews, I do have the impression that Smith sometimes references classic literature. It’s certainly possible that she’s making references I’m not familiar with here. There are also patterns to chapter titles that seemed like they were trying to be clever, but which didn’t make much sense to me. So, it is possible that rather than her novel being shallow, I’m missing the depths. However, based on the reviews of this book compared to her other books, I’m not the only one who was disappointed and bored while reading it.

2 Responses to “Disappointing Sophomore Novel In Review: The Autograph Man”

  1. louloureads

    I’m enjoying your dive into Zadie Smith’s work – I’ve never read anything by her, and I’ve always had the impression that her writing is too highbrow for me – like, it’s designed to be read in MA classes by people doing higher degrees in creative subjects. Your reviews of this and White Teeth have given me a better understanding of the topics she covers and I am now tempted to pick up White Teeth (though not this one!).
    louloureads recently posted…Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie #IndieChallengeMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I do feel like she’s sometimes working really hard at being clever in the sort of way that will then be analyzed in MA classes, but I’m still able to get something out of her books too. I admire her writing and the plots of both White Teeth and On Beauty kept me hooked. She also deals with themes I’m interested in pretty directly, so I there’s certainly commentary there that I can follow. I’d recommend giving White Teeth a chance 🙂

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