21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: On Beauty (Paperback)
This is the first Zadie Smith I've read and it will almost certainly be the last. The whole thing felt so half-hearted; the hip hop references were limited almost exclusively to Tupac, which shows how much 'research' Zadie Smith actually did for the book. It's very upsetting to see critics like Frank Kermoda earnestly falling for this as authentic writing engaged with hip hop. The characters - in particular the walking cliche 'street poet' Carl, and Howard Belsey who is little more than a convenient whipping-boy standing for 'theoretically-minded academics' - are caricatures, not, as Smith clearly intended, fully-rounded human beings. There is no progression of characters or ideas in the book and the prose is relentlessly gimmicky - witness the self-satisfied repetition of 'Googling' and the only occasional idiomatic spelling - the 'Pah point' joke is particularly lame, how many other characters are ridiculed in that way? The descriptions of academic life do not ring true to me at all either, it feels like the professors never do any teaching and spend most of their time at home furrowing their brows about their infidelities. The triumph of this book is meant to be that of beauty in art over theoretical analysis and deconstruction, but the book is so relentlessly tedious that I'd rather read Derrida and that's saying a lot. The idea of this being one of the 6 best books of 2005 is a joke; this is a middlebrow novel masquerading as high art.