The Autograph Man is the most disappointing second novel since Harper Lee owned up to ghosting that Britney Spears book. I loved White Teeth - and yahboo to those who just praised its precocity; it was a great read whatever the author's age - and expected to be entirely bowled over by The Autograph Man. And perhaps that was the trouble - my expectations were so high that I'd be bound to feel let down if I didn't actually die of pleasure.
But on any reading it's just not that good. Where White Teeth was warm, Autograph Man is trying-to-be-cool but just ending up cold; where there was colour, now there is monochrome; where that was amiable, this is standoffish. The main characters are colourless and mostly ciphers for Smith's points-to-be-made on Judaism and celebrity. And most of the jokes had my toes curling all the way up to my spine ("Alex had read about dignified silences in novels. This was his first attempt." Stop trying so hard!!). It rises to Smith's unquestionable potential only in two places: the prologue, with its excellent digressive and funny narrative on Victoria and Albert and 1980s wrestling; and the third quarter of the book, set in America, where we meet the only interesting characters in Kitty Alexander and Honey Richardson.
Overall The Autograph Man - astonishingly and crushingly - seems like a step backwards from White Teeth, and not a flowering. Still, she's only 27 and has got her c**p book in early. Fingers crossed that it's all up, up and away from here.