If, as Cyril Connolly suggested, success is the greatest of all the enemies of literature, few talents can have been more threatened than Zadie Smith’s. And indeed White Teeth, her triumphant debut, was followed by The Autograph Man, an awkward, slightly chaotic novel that gave the impression of a writer disoriented by a cacophonic critical babble and trying to regain her bearings by asking herself (as Connolly might have counseled), Would it amuse Horace or Milton or Swift or Leopardi? Could it be read to Flaubert or Dave Eggers?
On Beauty, Smith’s third novel, is by contrast an assured effort — although Smith remains sufficiently self-conscious (and generous) to expressly acknowledge the influence of E. M. Forster: “He gave me a classy old frame, which I covered with new material as best I could.”….
Smith displays all her strengths: satirical energy, imaginative breadth (she’s equally engaging about the inner lives of a teenage boy and a middle-aged mother), and a sure and funny touch with jumbled ethnicities….
I hope to be singing the same tune when the book finally appears on these shores. Right now I just keep repeating: please, please let this one be good.