|She's actually pretty good.|
Not so, apparently. But what stands out about a recent spate of Zadie hating, is the acrimony, and frankly, malevolence with which she's denounced. Far be it from me to make heads or tails of this. I just don't get it. Let's look at two examples.
In an essay published by Huffington Post Books, Ruth Fowler calls Zadie "a great literary bore." Fowler, who no one's ever heard of, goes on to say reading Zadie is like "being forcibly strapped into a Cambridge lecture theater and waterboarded by some bratty, egotistical over-read teen's pompous thesis on art." To punctuate that sentence, Fowler throws in a "Shut up, Zadie" and then calls her "as entertaining as an enema." Wow! I mean, that's some serious titty-twisting! And what's craziest of all is that the essay isn't even about Zadie! It's ostensibly a thousand-word whine about Tea Obreht winning the Orange Prize, couched as a complaint that MFA writers are apparently the worst plague to to be unleashed upon the literary world since, well, the plague. Fowler even has to remind herself she's not writing about Zadie specifically by throwing in the awkward transition "But back to Tea."
my review) satire How I Became A Famous Novelist, Steve Hely has his protagonist imagining what it'll be like once he cons his way into the upper echelon of literary society. He envisions Zadie leaning over to him at a dinner and telling him, "You know I'm on to you, you bastard." Then she smiles, and says, "Takes one to know one. I won't tell on you if you don't tell on me." (Then, later, they'd do coke off a manuscript.) The insinuation is, of course, that like the protagonist, she also is a literary fraud. But the significant thing here is that no where else in his novel does Hely mention a real-life novelist by name. Zadie's it. Other writers like Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich and Dan Brown are recognizable as ridiculous fictional characters, but Zadie's the only one who shows up as herself — as if Hely wants to be really sure you got his meaning there; that she's awful.
None of this make any sense to me. I was absolutely knocked over by White Teeth. When I finished it several years ago, I gushed to my reading log "this is one of the more enjoyable, best novels I've ever read." I loved On Beauty, too — if to a slightly lesser degree than White Teeth. (I wrote about On Beauty here, and if you scroll down to the bottom of the comments, there's another example of some really vitriolic Zadie Hate — and this one's even slightly racist!) Finally, Zadie's essay on David Foster Wallace that concludes her collection titled Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays is just so mind-shatteringly amazing, I went into another two- or three-day "God, I really miss DFW" funk. (I wrote about that essay collection here.)
So, to reiterate, I just really am befuddled here.*** Why does such a talented writer draw such a visceral, negative reaction from what seem to be otherwise smart people? Help me understand this. Please!
*Her second novel The Autograph Man, and a few of the more academic essays in Changing My Mind comprise the other 25 percent.
**Regarding On Beauty, published in 2005, NY Times reviewer Frank Rich wrote: "What finally makes "On Beauty" affecting as well as comic is Smith's own earnest enactment of Forster's dictum to "only connect" her passions with the prose of the world as she finds it." White Teeth reviewer Anthony Quinn called the Smith's 2000 debut novel "eloquent" and "wit-struck" among other praises.
*** If you missed it in my post last year about Top 10 Humorous Book Related Anecdotes, here's a sort-of-funny Zadie-related story: As a "pick-up" line, I once asked a girl in a bar if she knew who Zadie Smith is, because she looked exactly like her. It didn't work.