One unavoidable sensation in reading Zadie Smith’s recent essays is that “recent” isn’t what it used to be. Smith is now an insistently transatlantic writer, dividing her life between New York and Queens Park in London. These pieces were written during the eight years of the Obama administration, and therefore largely in the time – which, alarmingly, starts to look like a relatively rational period – of coalition government in the UK. There is only one mention of Donald Trump in the book; Theresa May does not get a look in. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, has a walk-on as a politician who still looks more a dead-end past than a born-again future, someone who has “profoundly betrayed the youth vote… [and] must go”. This sense of prelapsarian history does not necessarily hobble Smith’s compendious musings – a brick of an essay collection like this one is the acknowledgment of a certain status in a novelist, something like a … [Read more...] about Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith review – anyone for a cultural thought experiment?
Essay typer review
For Zadie Smith, criticism is a bodily pleasure, not an abstracted mental operation. Reading, like eating, caters to her ravenous but discriminating appetite: she finds the essence of Kafka in a sliver of words from his diary, carved, she says, as thin as Parma ham and containing the creator's "marbled mark". She doesn't need a snack when watching a film, because her eyes are feeding on the images: Brief Encounter is, for her, a chunk of Wensleydale cheese, inimitably English. The critical arguments in which Smith engages are as vital and as potentially violent as sexual wrestling matches, and in an essay on Katharine Hepburn she recalls that she ejected two lovers from her bed – on separate occasions, I should explain – because they disagreed with her about the relationship between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib. Smith consumes books and films, by which I mean that she absorbs them, seizing on them with all her acute, avid senses. When she was 14, her mother gave … [Read more...] about Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
On the one hand, this is a transparent exercise in desk-clearing from Hanif Kureishi, a lazily produced paperback for which the publisher is charging £18. It reprints a mass of material, some of which has appeared twice before, and none of which is given its original date and place of publication. But if Kureishi wants his account of a 1980s Tory party conference to stand on its own, he should have done a more explicit job to begin with. Readers of the New Statesman – where, I discovered, this piece first ran – may well have known the identity of an unnamed "editor of the Spectator", but readers of this book will not, especially since they aren't told the year. It is just about forgivable that Kureishi didn't wish to revise these pieces, but he or his editor might have read through them. We know that they didn't because a short piece about literature and psychoanalysis, evidently delivered at a colloquium, refers to "colloquia like this" (he ought to have declared the … [Read more...] about Collected Essays by Hanif Kureishi – review
Unlike Hillary Clinton, who used the same title for her memoir, Hanif Kureishi attaches a question mark to What Happened?, making clear that this collection of essays and stories is an interrogation of the recent past and not merely a dispassionate account of events. There is a note of incredulity, too, in his question, and this desire to comprehend and come to terms with the cultural and political shifts of the past decade runs through the book. What Happened? serves as a postscript to Kureishi’s Collected Essays, published in 2011, which brought together the best of his journalism and nonfiction over the previous three decades. Many of the pieces here revisit similar themes and preoccupations, particularly around ideas of race, religion and cultural identity. Why Should We Do What God Says? and Fanatics, Fundamentalists and Fascists cast an eye back to the 1989 fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie, and the far-reaching ripples of that event for free speech, the western … [Read more...] about What Happened? by Hanif Kureishi – review
So many identities, so little time! There’s a lot of breathless trying on in Zadie Smith’s first collection of short stories – as if she’s late to a fancy dress party but still can’t decide what costume to wear. Or whether to go in fancy dress at all. Or maybe go to the cinema instead? There is autofiction here, along with formal experimentation, dystopian sci-fi, surrealism, social satire, parable and a story from the point of view of God that reads like a droll reflection on creative restlessness. “To me, it was beautiful to move between these parallel projects, never getting bogged down, not feeling defined by one way of doing things, feeling light, feeling free… Doesn’t mean it wasn’t avoidant behaviour,” says the omnipotent creator in Blocked. Each of Smith’s five novels, from White Teeth (2000) to Swing Time (2016), have danced from one identity to the next, shifting accent, cadence, tone. Meanwhile, her protean … [Read more...] about Grand Union by Zadie Smith review – wisdom, heart… but an uneven collection