The Autograph Man Paperback – 22 May 2003
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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"See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Probably the worst book I've read in a long time. I kept waiting for it to get going. Something I could get my teeth into but by the time I realised it wasn't a great read, I had... Read morePublished 3 months ago by D. Panchal
Absolutely great read. Very entertaining and funny. Recommend to any Zadie Smith fans and those new to reading her workPublished 6 months ago by deanio
White Teeth was brilliant. This is not. The writing isn't terrible but I really don't care about most of the characters and a couple of them are just a bit too much of a stretch... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Esk
Boring. Characters - I couldn't care. Cool and iconoclastic = nothing of any interest.
Skip-read to the end and none the wiser.
I loved this book. It's the best I've read in a long time. I'm surprised by the other reviews. I picked it up by chance and couldn't put it down. It races along. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Flora.B
This was a rather strange novel and I can't say that I specifically liked/disliked it. I think the author was trying to use a story to convey a spiritual/philosophical message and... Read morePublished on 22 April 2014 by Cece de la Vela
The protagonist of this story is Alex-Li Tandem, a Chinese-Jewish young man living in current day London. His job and obsession are autographs which he sells. Read morePublished on 8 Jan. 2014 by The Pegster
I enjoyed this book.... but it's hard work. I know it's fiction but to really empathise with characters I need to feel they could really exist. Read morePublished on 28 Sept. 2013 by jonathan william chaplin