In Praise of Zadie Smith

Town & Country UK


October is my favourite month for reading. Grey mornings framed by orange leaves pair well with good fiction, and this season I find myself more inclined than ever to reread the œuvre of Zadie Smith. Some of the reasons are obvious: fresh from a summer that saw her attract critical praise for her short story Escape from New York, published in the New Yorker, Smith is in the limelight once more, co-writing an upcoming sci-fi flick starring Robert Pattinson, much to the delight of literature- and film-lovers alike.

But it wasn’t until I was leafing through my copy of White Teeth – Smith’s debut masterpiece – that I was reminded of why her fiction matters, and especially today. Consider the following passage from the novel’s nameless narrator: ‘Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.’

It’s the kind of quote that throbs in your mind long after you read it. It may not make for the easiest tale, but Smith’s strength is that she does not indulge her readers. Thumb through any of her works, from the novels NW and On Beauty to short stories such as The Embassy of Cambodia, and you’re forced to confront the ambiguities of truth, the grey spots, the very real and uncomfortable reasons why it is, in fact, that not everybody deserves love all the time.

Smith’s characters, like her readers, are unabashedly and perfectly human, and it is for this reason that I encourage you to read, or reread, any of her works. Let her make you think that you understand a character, and then, on the last page, let her shatter all of your illusions. Force yourself to pick up the pieces. Now that really is a good read.