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The Autograph Man Paperback – 22 May 2003

2.8 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (22 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140276343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140276343
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

In her second novel, The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith has set herself the unenviable task of following up a certain segment of recent literary history. Her first novel, the bestselling, award-laden and much-hyped White Teeth wore its ambitions lightly: an exuberant comic foray into the lives of three disparate families living in suburban north London, it dealt simultaneously--and deftly--with wider multicultural and political motifs.

The Autograph Man has a similar ebullience and an equally dazzling panoply of characters. Its hero Alex Li-Tandem is "one of this generation who watch themselves", a Chinese-Jewish north Londoner who is first introduced as a child accompanying his father to a wrestling match between those two larger-than-life scions of 1970s Saturday afternoon television--Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. When Alex's father dies in the pandemonium surrounding the pursuit of Big Daddy's autograph, the twin themes of the novel are launched--one is the bereaved Alex's search for a replacement to fill the gulf, the other his obsession with tracking down, buying and selling autographs. Alex seeks one autograph in particular and seemingly in vain--that of Kitty Alexander, a fading film star. The route he follows in his search has much to say about the nature of celebrity and the privacy of souls, of fantasy and reality--all narrated in Smith's breathless prose.

The Autograph Man plays on many strands and clever observations--in particular Jewishness, goyishness and Zen Buddhism. Smith is a superbly assured writer whose images stick in the mind; for example, Alex's girlfriend Esther has "hair plaited like a puzzle". The dialogue is vivid and there is much humour but at times the convoluted plot threatens to spill over into anarchy and the humour can be self-conscious. Though this does not diminish the entertainment value of The Autograph Man, it does--frustratingly--make it appear insincere. --Catherine Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Intelligent. . . . exquisitely clever. . . . an ironic commentary about fame, mortality, and the triumph of image over reality." --"The Boston Globe ""The same bracing intelligence and salty humor that distinguished her debut. . . . Smith scatters marvelous sentences and sharp insights on nearly every page." --"LA Times" "A lovely surprise. Zadie Smith . . . has come out with a second book that is actually "better" than its predecessor: its dialog funnier, its language even more plugged in, more wired." --"Esquire ""A preternaturally gifted . . . writer [with] a voice that's street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time." -"The New York Times""Savvy, witty and exuberant." -New York "Daily News""Smith is young and smart, and . . . she proves to be an amazingly gifted writer." -"Washington Post Book World" "Smith writes sharp dialogue for every age and race-and she's funny as hell." -"Newsweek" "[Zadie Smith] possesses a more than ordinary share of talent." -"USA Today""Absolutely delightful." -Alan Cheuse, "Chicago Tribune" "Smith's clever, aphoristic observations and snappy dialogue are so delightful they tend to become addictive. . . . [The Autograph Man is] always entertaining." -"Elle"

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Top Customer Reviews

By A. Ross TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 25 Jan. 2005
Format: Paperback
Many reviewers have written about Zadie Smith's second novel in relation to White Teeth, and seem to come at it with a lot of baggage as a result. Let me just state for the record that I don't have a horse running in the Zadie Smith stakes. I've never read or heard an interview with her, and don't really know anything about her. I read "White Teeth" and mostly enjoyed it, but didn't think it was as brilliant as many others did. I approached this book as a blank slate, without knowing anything about it.
It's not good. In fact, it's pretty bad. If you wanted a textbook example of the literary sophomore slump, here it is. The story concerns Alex-Li Tandem, a half-Chinese, half-Jewish (Tandem... get it?) dealer in autographs. The main plotline concerns his obsession with the fictitious old film star Kitty Alexander and with obtaining one of her ultra-rare autographs. The central theme, however, concerns Alex's inability to ever deal with the sudden death of his father. This death occurs in the excellent prologue, which forms the first tenth of the book and is really the only part worth reading. Covering Alex's childhood visit to a wrestling match at Albert Hall, complete with interesting digression into the venue's history, this section would have made an excellent standalone short story.
Alas, it is followed by 300+ pages of muddled prose populated by characters that are dreadfully flat and uninteresting. Alex is whiny loser, who is unable to connect with the people around him, seeking solace in the bottle, or in his obsession for autographs.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback
On first glance The Autograph Man promised a good read. Indeed, I have never shied away from the prospect of an intellectual and challenging read, as promised by the cover.
What a disappointment then, to enter the heart of the book and come out the other side unfulfilled, disappointed and confused. Smith certainly reckons herself as a "wizard of prose" - as promised by the book's cover, but this really is an example of intellectual words being used for the sake of it. Intellectual words and phrases are an absolute joy when they form part of an enchanting and beguiling story. In the case of The Autograph Man Smith expects us not to see beyond the clever words, and therefore not to notice that the characters are unlikeable and the conversations between the unlikeable characters are unintelligible.
I am now making the "International Gesture for Boredom" - which started with the first page of the book, and ended when I threw it in the bin, three quarters of the way through.
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Format: Hardcover
I was always pretty ambivalent toward White Teeth. I thought that her first novel mostly showed Smith's potential more than it demonstrated any full-fleged literary brilliance. The Autograph Man was, as far as I could see, Smith's chance to shine. The idea behind the book is reasonably original and the writing in this book is good insofar as the language flows well and it is pleasant to read.
However, the characters in this book are awful. Smith has gone to a lot of trouble to develop the main character's background, but goes on to do nothing with it. For the most part, the characters in the novel were superficial and plastic, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of them, least of all the protagonist. I could possibly be persuaded to accept that he is a typical morally bankrupt and jaded Londoner and thus not given to ethical qualms or emotions were it not for the fact that the autor makes a half-hearted attempt every now and again to make Alex seem at least slightly human.
A number of potentially meaningful themes are looked at in this book, especially death, fame, and religion. The author doesn't so much examine them as give them a cursory glance before leaving them aside in favour of a few more clever literary references. The characters in this novel do, and have done to them, a number of really significant things that just don't seem to affect them in any way. Nothing they do seems to have any consequences.
Finally, as with White Teeth, this book ends with a whimper, and really leaves the reader wondering just what the author DID with all those pages that came before the conclusion.
By all means borrow a copy of this book, but save your money and don't buy it.
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