Were you caught up in the hype surrounding White Teeth? Fair
enough, I was. I enjoyed that book. It was (as all the critics said) fresh, a new voice for
multicultural Britain, all those things. It dealt with the some of the same issues as the
hideously pompous and contrived Black Album in an entertaining way and it touched on many
others at the time. It was an East-is-East/Black Album/Miguel Street
for the 21st century, and it even adapted beautifully for TV. So… We all awaited Ms Smith’s
next novel with baited breath… In our heart of hearts we knew that White Teeth probably wasn’t
as good as it looked at the time, but it was her first book, and we’d bigged her up pretty big,
so we were more than willing to see what she could do second time around… And The Autograph
Man was what she did.
Alex Li-Tandem is a Jewish kid of half-British, half-Chinese descent with a very confusing
life. He’s an Autograph Man, buying and selling autographs of the rich and famous, and obsessed
by the holy grail of autograph hunters, one Kitty Alexander, an ageing film star. His social
life is a mixture of overtly Jewish childhood friends and weird drunken autograph friends. The
book begins with him coming down from a 3 day acid high which he can’t remember (one wonders
exactly what acid he’d been taking but I digress) but in which he appears to have crashed his
car, pissed off his girlfriend and friends, and forged a Kitty autograph. The rest of the book
is a chaotic run through the aftermath of these events.
I have to say that I really didn’t like this book. I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t too dense or
too clever or even too simplistic. It was just dull. I couldn’t give a monkeys about any of the
characters, half of them were really poorly formed and in the end I just didn’t understand the
point of the plot.
I actually worry about this reaction. I liked White Teeth. I know it probably won’t be a
classic in a few years, but it was the book of the year in 2000. Why then was I so bored by this
Fundamentally the answer to that is, I’m afraid, that it’s shit. Oh well.