ARTS ETC: BOOKS: Paperbacks ; Just Your Everyday Druggy Chinese-Jewish Film Fanatic: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith PENGUIN Pounds 7.99

By Phelan, Laurence | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 15, 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

ARTS ETC: BOOKS: Paperbacks ; Just Your Everyday Druggy Chinese-Jewish Film Fanatic: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith PENGUIN Pounds 7.99


Phelan, Laurence, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


It's probably telling that The Autograph Man is concerned with the deconstruction, and in the end the renunciation, of celebrity. But Smith's scope and her exuberant and already distinctive voice makes it read like far more than a hasty response to her life post- White Teeth.

The autograph man is Alex-Li Tandem, a Jewish-Chinese Londoner who deals in signed pieces of celebrity ephemera for a living. His holy grail is the signature of Kitty Alexander, a reclusive film star long since forgotten by the public, but revered by the rather tawdry and masochistic autograph dealers.

Every week since he was 14, Alex has been writing to her without reply. There is a prologue that will overshadow the whole book - and not only because it's the funniest and best written bit - in which the 12-year- old Alex collects his first autograph (Big Daddy) at the precise moment that his father keels over. After this, Alex wakes up as a 27-year-old, hungover from a three-day-long acid bender, to find Kitty's signature pinned to his front door. Over the course of the following week, he will try to determine whether it's authentic or whether he wrote it himself while high. This will involve journeying to New York in search of Kitty, in the company of a famous prostitute. He will also re-evaluate his relationship with his girlfriend of 10 years, his obsession with old movie stars, and his feelings towards his faith and his father. All the while consuming vast amounts of drugs and alcohol.

For all her determined and signature multiculturalism, Smith's more impressive feat seems to me to be her unnervingly accurate portrait of the male mind. With his arrested development, obsession with pop culture, self-absorption, uncontrollable horniness and fear of commitment, Alex would feel perfectly at home in a Nick Hornby or Philip Roth book. I don't really like him, but I do relate to him and believe in him.

He suffers from that perennial anxiety of the post-modern world, that there's nothing he can say or do that hasn't already been said or done. Having looked to the movies for guidance he's now undergoing a crisis of faith. Accordingly, the chapters of The Autograph Man are labelled by tenets of Judaism and Buddhism. Which is fine, but rather symptomatic of the excessive narrative, typographical and design gimmickry Smith deploys. But though her themes may be common, her protagonist unlikable, and her story a little far-fetched, on almost every page there is originality: a character-sketch, joke, or just a gleaming sentence, which will remind you that you're enjoying reading.

HHHII

The Shadow of Boxing

By Geoffrey Beattie

ORION pounds 8.99

Before he was Professor of Psychology at Manchester University and Big Brother's resident body language expert, Beattie was a writer who chronicled the seedier side of life in the north of Thatcher's Britain. He used to hang out with the doormen in nightclubs, and train with them in Brendan Ingle's boxing gym in Sheffield, where he was also witness to the rise of Prince Naseem. The Shadows of Boxing tells the sad story of the intense, 17-year relationship between Naz and his trainer, and their acrimonious split, and contains a major scoop in Naz's first interview since he lost his world title. But it's also a book about Sheffield, about the effect Ingle and his gym had on the local community, both before and after Naz, about the psychology of boxing, and about violence. Beattie questions his attraction to the milieu he now revisits, while he chats with "Mad" Frankie Fraser, and remembers the killing he witnessed on a night out with Big Lenny the bouncer. But his peculiar double life does allow him a sophisticated insight into codes of masculinity, and the value placed on respect by everyone from the former champion, to deprived kids unable to command anything more tangible.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

ARTS ETC: BOOKS: Paperbacks ; Just Your Everyday Druggy Chinese-Jewish Film Fanatic: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith PENGUIN Pounds 7.99
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?