Shop now Shop now Shop now See more Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn more Shop Men's Shop Women's
Customer Review

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Unfortunate Work, 25 Jan. 2005
This review is from: The Autograph Man (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. He's not particularly likeable (not that this is a prerequisite of good fiction), but no matter how awfully he acts toward them, his friends and acquaintances (everyone he meets in the book, really), are incredibly (in the strictest sense of the word) tolerant and forgiving of him. The reader is given no glimpse whatsoever of what might make Alex worth having as a friend, much less the long-term boyfriend of one gorgeous woman and the occasional lover of another gorgeous woman. None of the supporting cast is written with any distinction, although there are momentary flashes of interest to be had from the legendary prostitute Honey Richardson, fellow autograph men Lovelear and Dove, and most of all, the thug turned milkman.
The story mostly follows Alex's attempt to locate Kitty Alexander, while a parallel story concerns the plans for some kind of Jewish mourning rite for his father. The first offers Smith the chance to try to make some points about celebrity. But this is never explored with any depth or from a new angle, and there are already scores of books which have done this much much better. The second plotline allows Smith to try and say something about religion, or more specifically Judaism. Again, she never commits to this thematic line with any seriousness, and the result is a mish-mash of Kabbalah, confusion over cultural identity, and semi-comic rabbis. Novels about Judaism are a dime a dozen, as are novels about the search for faith, and Smith has added nothing of interest to either realm. The result is a book that's shockingly dull, and written in an embarrassing self-consciously clever style which is rarely (if ever) as witty as Smith so painfully obviously intends it to be. This is an unfortunate work that reads as if Smith was locked in a windowless room, handed the merest shred of a premise, and then told she couldn't leave until she'd written 400 pages. As Alex-Li would say, "Ugh."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Track comments by e-mail

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Oct 2008 20:56:53 BDT
Ah - like you I really enjoyed the prologue, and wanted to know if my experience of the poverty of the next bit was echoed by others. Thanks, don't know that I'll bother to finish it now!
At least On Beauty is worth reading

Posted on 30 Oct 2008 17:51:11 GMT
Gayle Cox says:
Actually he would say "Ug", but hey who's counting !! I am loving this book - I'm quite near the end and its just got better and better as the book's progressed. I love the characters (the four friends) and the way Zadie has potrayed their life together and the way they relate to each other, its perfect! Its different, kooky and funny. I've never read White Teeth (although I did start once but couldn't get into it), but after reading this I'll definitely be giving it another go.

Posted on 23 Apr 2009 12:56:53 BDT
I'm about 1/2 way through and was considering writing a review explaining my frustrations with the book. However, as you've hit the nail on the head with your review I won't bother!

Top review!

Posted on 18 Nov 2010 08:07:48 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Nov 2010 08:08:47 GMT
I agree with this review completely. I am currently reading the book and not enjoying it at all. I thought by reading a review I may have found I was missing something but it appears not. The trouble os once I start a book I have to finish it.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Mar 2011 12:31:12 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 24 Mar 2011 12:31:44 GMT]

Posted on 24 Mar 2011 12:32:02 GMT
H. Ashford says:
Thank you for your review. I also thought the prologue was good - but have just given up on the book after reading about a quarter of the rest. It was the scene in the pub that did for me - I would run a mile from drunken, boorish, self-indulgent losers in real life, and I don't particularly want to read about them!
Now at least I can be reassured that I'm not missing much by giving up (I hate to give up on a book once I've started!)
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details



A. Ross

Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 631