Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt




Zenga Longmore


by Zadie Smith

Hamish Hamilton, L12.99, pp. 480

Zadie Smith is a very impressive woman. She is divinely pretty, 24 years old, has a double first in English at Cambridge, and if that's not enough, she has written a hefty great book on multicultural north west London for which she was paid a staggeringly large commission. Sadly, the book lacks the brilliance of its author.

Reader, beware, you are about to hear a lot more of Zadie. Rumour has it that her publishers are sparing no expense to hype her to the white teeth. I predict that, in a few years' time, students all over the country will be poring over Zadie's opus in an attempt to 're-examine the marginalisation of the multi-ethnic urbanisation of the late 20th century'.

The plot is dense and the style didactic, redeemed by flashes of lucid dialogue. Two men, Archie Jones from Brighton and Samad Iqbal from Bangladesh, pal up whilst serving in the British army in wartime Europe. Samad is frightfully clever, as only a character created by a brainy 23-year-old can be. One of his missions in life appears to be to explain his erudite brand of philosophy to Archie: 'Our children will be born of our actions' is a typical piece of wisdom. 'On cold days a man can see his breath, on a hot day he can't. On both occasions, a man breathes.' Archie, instead of avoiding this character like the plague, chums up with him for the rest of his life. They return to Blighty. Archie weds a beautiful young Jamaican girl, who gives birth to a daughter, Irie. Samad's arranged marriage produces twin boys, Millat and Magid.

Ah, I thought at this point, children have been introduced! Now I shall be spared Samad's endless bleating about unravelling Fermat's theorem and mastering Aristolelian philosophy. Children have got to talk in plain, non-Cambridge-don lingo. But oh, far worse than all beside, the children speak in Cambridge student lingo. 'Other families are not self-indulgent,' Irie screams at her parents as they travel on a bus, 'they don't run around relishing, relishing the fact that they are utterly dysfunctional. Lucky bastards. Lucky motherfuckers.' I could not help musing on what would happen in real life were a black girl to use such language to her mother - and on a bus, to boot. …

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