Zadie Smith, the U.K.-born best-selling author, has a new novel entitled Swing Time due out this fall and anticipation is already building. She offered up a teaser of the new novel set in London and West Africa a few months ago during a reading at John Hopkins University. The book is “a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them,” according to publisher Hamish Hamilton. Race, class and identity are common themes in Smith’s four published novels and the new work seems to follow suit.
But while you wait for the release, see if you agree with this ranking of Smith’s published novels. Is your favorite in the number one spot?
4. The Autograph Man (2002)
Perhaps suffering from a book version of the sophomore slump, Smith’s second novel The Autograph Man is not quite as engaging as her best-selling debut novel. Set in London, the story centers on a celebrity obsessed Jewish-Chinese man who fuels his obsession with his job, buying and selling autographs. He is also in the throes of grief over the death of his father. Smith is at her best when she brings her characters to life with lush, literary portraits that often have a bit of humor. The Autograph Man has that, but not enough to overcome the clunky narrative. Flaws and all, the book won the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize and sold well, just without the universal praise her first book received.
3.White Teeth (2000)
Back in 2000, Smith was heralded as the new “it” author. Her debut novel White Teeth had critics drooling, comparing her writing style to literary legends like Charles Dickens. In the book, Smith takes a deep dive into the family strife experienced by an Englishman and his Bangladeshi friend in modern day London. There are numerous characters and Smith spares no opportunity to let her descriptive skills shine. The book won several prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award. White Teeth deserves praise and Smith is a very capable writer, but there is no way to live up to the kind of hype that surrounded her debut. Anything short of puppies, rainbows and winning lottery tickets spilling out of the book’s pages meant disappointment.
2. On Beauty (2005)
After the explosion of characters in her debut novel and her attempt at a more disciplined narrative in The Autograph Man, Smith hits her stride with On Beauty. Like her previous work, this novel features people of mixed race and there is lots of reflection about class, identity and what it means to be authentic. Like the debut novel, On Beauty chronicles two interconnected families as they attempt to figure out life in a fictional college town outside of Boston and London. There is also a hefty dose of satirical humor that Smith does very well
1. NW (2012)
Smith sticks to her tried and true themes of race and class for this 2012 work. The story revolves around four culturally and racially diverse people from an economically depressed London locale as they endure major life changes. Though longtime fans have seen her navigate these same topics before, there are many nuanced paths to explore those themes and Smith winds her way through several of them. She also plays with the narrative structure to add texture to the tale. The writing style shifts and moves to match the characters’ circumstances and personalities. It is a beautifully told story that makes readers think and feel.