Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Zadie Smith has been compared to Martin Amis; it is true that both authors have pop-star status and cannot win prizes. White Teeth was the great British literary success of last year; so much so that Zadie has been bundled off to Sweden to write, far away from her rapacious fans. In the book-of-the-year round-ups, Martin Amis won the most votes, Zadie Smith the third most. Yet she could not win the Booker Prize, or the Orange Prize, or even the Whitbread Prize, which went to Matthew Kneale for his historical adventure focusing irresistibly on the harsh treatment of Aborigines. Kneale narrowly beat Loma Sage for her memoir of a stifling postwar upbringing. At one point she even evokes the misery of 'a thick wet skipping-rope slapping the ground'. The lesson of these prizes is -that gloom is good. Perhaps the shared fault of Amis and Smith is the confident, present-day quality of their writing,, their sense of humour, however dark, and their lack of grievance. Some of Zadie's critics argue that she is a work in progress who should be judged another novel down the line. Others pre-emptively mention the authors who never produced decent second novels. Is there a plot to destabilise Britain's most talented young writer? There are more forthcoming prizes for Zadie not to win, starting with the WH Smith Award. Judges appear to have found an accommodation. Zadie is invited along to ensure glamour and attention but is then snubbed to show that writing should not be effortless or richly rewarded.

The crimes of Peter Mandelson have been judged with different degrees of censoriousness, but everyone seems agreed that his most repulsive trait is sucking up to the rich and powerful. On this matter I feel a twinge of sympathy. In the current Tatler I have been named alongside the distinguished, etc. Mariella Frostrup and the steadfast, etc. Matthew Freud as a power flirt. I am particularly craven towards `Tory grandees and media bigwigs'. Media bigwigs I take to mean Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Conde Nast. It is true that I tend to bow and scrape a bit in his company. I do not come across any Tory grandees. Tatler suggests that power flirting is a social pastime, but I, like Peter Mandelson, am grimly purposeful. Mandelson wanted money and I want articles. An Asian social analyst was quoted this weekend as saying that proximity to power rubbed off on you. What, then, must Peter Mandelson's banishment from power be like? Every day, on my journey to work, I pass Robert Bourne and Sally Greene's house on Chelsea Embankment which is almost entirely hidden by a high wall. But each December the couple hold a party to celebrate Jesus's birthday rather than Peter Mandelson's. The gates fly open and one is led by torchlight into a vast, beautifully decorated hallway full of famous and beautiful people sipping champagne. The next morning, the light and laughter have gone, the gates clanged shut, normal rush-hour traffic resumed. It is as if it never happened.

Mv husband drives on our morning journey to work, because, as he often points out, he is a model of law-abiding motoring. He is forever checking in his wing mirror, allowing room for cyclists and slowing down at amber lights. `Did it do them any good? …

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