Monday, April 27, 2009

The Autograph Man

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
- audio version read by Steven Crossley

Alex-Li Tandem sells autographs. His business is to hunt for names on paper, collect them, sell them, and occasionally fake them — all to give the people what they want: a little piece of Fame. But what does Alex want? Only the return of his father, the end of religion, something for his headache, three different girls, infinite grace, and the rare autograph of forties movie actress Kitty Alexander. With fries.

The Autograph Man is a deeply funny existential tour around the hollow trappings of modernity: celebrity, cinema, and the ugly triumph of symbol over experience. It offers further proof that Zadie Smith is one of the most staggeringly talented writers of her generation.

My first experience with Zadie Smith was when I picked up a copy of White Teeth soon after it was released as a trade paperback. I couldn't get into the novel at that time so it languished on my shelves and has now disappeared into a box somewhere. I wasn't sure if I'd like The Autograph Man, but I've been reading a good deal of audio books lately so I thought I'd give it a go when I came across an unabridged version.

I found the prologue (and the death of Li-Jin) somewhat disturbing, but I kept going as I had the audio in the car. Smith is unapologetically and brutally honest and while the novel is full of witty light-hearted observations and sometimes zany plot twists one can't help but feel deeply for Alex-Li, who is clearly lost and on the brink.

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