From the MAN BOOKER PRIZE- and WOMEN'S PRIZE-SHORTLISTED author of Swing Time, White Teeth and On Beauty
'A pleasure from the first page to the last' Evening Standard
'A glorious concoction by our most beguiling and original prose-wizard' Independent on Sunday
'Full of humour, the search for love and the fear of death... A touching, thoughtful, deeply felt rite-of-passage novel' Sunday Telegraph
The Autograph Man follows one Alex-Li Tandem: a twenty-something Chinese-Jewish autograph dealer turned on by sex, drugs and organised religion. From London to New York, love to death, fathers to sons, Alex tries to discover how a piece of paper can bring him closer to his heart's desire. Exposing our misconceptions about our idols - about ourselves - Zadie Smith delivers a brilliant, unforgettable tale about who we are and what we really want to be.
Smith's eagerly awaited second novel begins with a bang, but rapidly loses momentum, slipping from tragicomedy to rather overdetermined farce. The introductory set piece is panoramically sock-o in the best Martin Amis tradition, taking us from Doctor Li-Jin Tandem's outing with his son's friends to see a wrestling match in Albert Hall to his sudden death from a massive stroke. Fifteen years to the week later, Li-Jin's son, Alex, is being pressed by his friends, Adams Jacobs and Joseph Klein, to say Kaddish for his dad. Alex is an autograph trader and obsessive egotist. Over the course of the week, he wrecks his car on an acid trip, goes to New York in quest of the legendary retired actress Kitty Alexander, frees her from her mad manager (who promptly announces her death to the papers, thus inflating the value of her signature) and gets his girlfriend Esther, Adam's sister, angry enough that she suspends their relationship. Smith paints portraits of a very multiculti Judaism: Adam, for instance, is a black Jew, while Alex is a disbelieving Chinese one. Adam's kabbalistic interests are supposed to operate in Smith's text the way Homer's poem operated in Ulysses, giving it a mythic dimension, but the big theme of Jewishness feels tacked on, like a marquee advertising a former attraction. Smith's pen portraits of the shabby, yobbish autograph trading circle are intermittently funny, but her prose is so busy being clever that the laughter never builds. This is disappointing but, even with its faults, the novel points to a literary talent of a high order.