‘Feel Free’ is a new collection of over thirty essays, reviews and interviews by Zadie Smith divided into five sections. The first and last of these, ‘In the World’ and ‘Feel Free’, cover current events and some autobiographical “life writing”, while ‘In the Audience’, ‘In the Gallery’ and ‘On the Bookshelf’ concern her musings on film, art and writing respectively.
Covering a vast array of topics, the collection opens with an impassioned defence of libraries (“the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet”) while a new security fence constructed around her daughter’s primary school is the springboard for a nuanced and insightful piece on Brexit. As to be expected, some of the more in-depth reviews may only be of real interest for those who already know about the subject matter. I am familiar with some of the films and authors discussed here (‘The Social Network’, ‘Get Out’ and Karl Ove Knausgaard are all featured), but it has to be said that the more academic essays about art were less appealing to me and I skimmed most of these. As well as subject matter, the essays were originally written for very different audiences across different publications and while many pieces first appeared in the New York Review of Books and Harper’s magazine, some were delivered as lectures. Continue reading
I’ve had a copy of ‘On Beauty’ by Zadie Smith on my shelf for ages but as it is based on ‘Howards End’ by E. M. Forster, I decided to read the latter first about six years ago as I usually prefer to have some knowledge of the source material when reading an adaptation or homage to another book. However, I didn’t get on with ‘Howards End’ at all and consequently I have neglected ‘On Beauty’ for a very long time, but after enjoying Smith’s latest novel Swing Time so much last year, I wanted to try what is arguably her finest book.
‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith tells the story of two mixed-race girls, an unnamed narrator and her friendship with Tracey who grow up together on neighbouring council estates in north-west London in the 1980s. From Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson, music and dance dominate their lives but it is only Tracey who has the real talent to pursue a career as a dancer. The narrator goes to university and works as a personal assistant for mononymous international pop star Aimee who decides to set up a school for girls in west Africa. The story alternates between the past and present and even though the girls spend a considerable time apart in later years, Tracey’s influence can always be felt. Continue reading
2014 was a fantastic year for new books by some of my favourite authors including ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage‘ by Haruki Murakami, ‘The Paying Guests‘ by Sarah Waters, ‘Us‘ by David Nicholls and ‘The Book of Strange New Things‘ by Michel Faber. 2015 is also shaping up to be a bumper year for long-awaited new novels from both established authors and debut novelists alike. Here are the ones to watch in 2015:
I have just watched the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 live stream broadcast on the Huffington Post website. In the build-up towards the big announcement when Miranda Richardson said that the judges were looking for originality, accessibility and excellence, I thought: “It’s got to be ‘Flight Behaviour’! Or ‘Bring Up the Bodies’! Or ‘Life After Life’! One of those three will definitely win it!”
Last night, I went to the Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Readings event at the Southbank Centre in London and it was every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be.
Over the last couple of months, I have read five out of the six books on this year’s shortlist. In summary, ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes was the most dysfunctional (i.e. my least favourite), ‘Flight Behaviour’ by Barbara Kingsolver was beautifully written, ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson had an intriguing concept which was handled very well, ‘NW’ by Zadie Smith had excellent dialogue and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel was an impressive interpretation of historical events. Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to read ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple yet but I will try and seek out a copy in the future.
Anyway, this is my ticket for which I paid the princely sum of £6 (gotta love student discounts). I also took my copies of ‘NW’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ with me.
I gave a slightly mixed review of ‘White Teeth‘ by Zadie Smith last year. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but it did have a few flaws. Over a decade after her first novel was published when she was just twenty-five years old, Smith now offers us ‘NW’, another ambitious and sprawling novel which focuses on four thirty-something characters – Leah, Felix, Natalie and Nathan – who all grew up on the Caldwell council estate in north-west London and find that their lives continue to overlap many years later. Continue reading
A little while ago, I wrote a post about the books I will probably never read (unless I break a leg or something, in which case I might give them a try). I also have a list of other books which have been sitting on my shelves for months or years which I really do plan to read. My good excuse is that I have been trying to make the most out university libraries which I will only have access to until the end of September so my official reading list and my Kindle have been neglected for a very long time. My poor excuse is that I am also a pretty terrible procrastinator even when it comes to getting round to things I enjoy like reading.
Books I Have Neglected
The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 was announced today at the London Book Fair. The six nominees are…
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
NW by Zadie Smith
I thought I would hate ‘White Teeth’ given the tidal wave of hype which still seems to be continuing over a decade after the book was first published. But Zadie Smith’s writing is warmer and less pretentious than I thought it would be and her sprawling take on multicultural London focusing on three families in the second half of the twentieth century is ambitious but not exhausting to read. Although I had my doubts at the beginning, I found myself being carried along by the story to the point where I realised about 200 pages in that I was actually quite enjoying it. Character observation is her main strength, and the dialogue is often very witty albeit in a wordy sort of way. Continue reading