Indians can write… also, I love Zadie Smith

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I just remembered this quote from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth

You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, ‘Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He just couldn’t deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.’ Now how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll–then we call them crazy… We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that their might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.*

which made me love her and that book all over again. Talk about uncomfortable truth. I must re-read it sometime soon.

The book I won’t be reading again ever is The Accidental by Ali Smith. I carried it with me to Gulu, and perhaps I didn’t do it justice in between taking pictures and falling asleep, but it is honestly not a book I can talk about in superlatives. It just falls somewhere between somewhat agonizing and mildly interesting. 

So this 30-something barefoot hippie woman Amber comes unexpectedly into the lives of the Smart family. Astrid the odd preteen daughter dying to stand out and fit in at the same time. Magnus, the sexually frustrated sixteen year old son. Eve, mother and writer who seems to have failed at mothering and writing but is desperately trying to keep up an appearance of the contrary; and Michael the children’s stepfather and Eve’s second husband – a pretentious Linguistics professor whose unfortunate students have to seduce his old ass to get any good grades.
When Amber shows up at their doorstep during a boring family holiday in Norfolk, they take her in.
Exposure of true personalities, emergence of frustrations and relative chaos ensue as Amber begins to bring out the best, worst and hidden sides of everyone, each Smart becoming infatuated with her ‘exoticism’ in their own way.
Ali Smith writes in an experimental manner that dispenses with norms like beginning your sentences, or quoting your dialogue; and inserts entire chapters of painful (to read) love-poetry. She’s like a chameleon narrator taking on her characters’ mannerisms and thought-flows to produce a personal yet jagged sequence of the same events told from several points of view.
I liked the book’s pace, particularly post-Amber’s entry – before that, the characters are so dead, you just want to shake them! I particularly liked Eve’s chapters which are like a QnA session with her soul. But it ends on an odd anticlimax and it’s hard to pick out Smith’s message – assuming there was one. I recommend only if you have spare time aplenty and great patience.
I’m nearly done with the delightful Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. She deals with very much the same themes as Jhumpa Lahiri in Interpreter of Maladies, which is my next to-be-read (thank you Princess). And then Jane Bussman’s The Worst Date Ever, an autobiography of a British celeb-journalist who finds herself in Northern Uganda during the war. It’s supposed to be comic and I want to see how (if) she pulls that off.
  
*of course I didn’t remember it for word. Google helped.
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2 responses »

  1. I’m curious to see how Jane Bussmann pulls it off too. According to The Sunday Times, to have a brief taste of what this book is like, one must: ‘Imagine “The Last King of Scotland” written by Shazzer from “Bridget Jones’ Diary”…’

    “The Last King of Scotland” was one of the worst-written books I’ve read in a really long while, not least because it called Uganda a Central African country. It was a dull, pretentious book, with just a few moments of relief–when the author described scenes with Amin, with whom he was obviously very well fascinated.

    Will wait on your review, and check out that Desai book for myself.

    Enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s right up there on my list of contemporary heroes. 🙂

  2. ooh I hate when they do that… if you’re going to write a weighty tome about my country and shove it in my face, can you at least get the location right?!

    i didn’t read The Last King of Scotland. i generally dont like books on Africa written by non-Africans who weren’t even there. I thought Worst Date would be good bcoz it’s an autobio and it’s (supposedly) not a self-conscious what’s-wrong-with-Africa type of book.

    very keen to read and see!

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