Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind (3 stars)

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

(Hamish Hamilton)

As she notes in her foreword, Zadie Smith had written her latest book without even knowing it. All it took was one person to point out that since she burst onto the scene brandishing her White Teeth, Smith has committed thousands of words to print on literature, film and a little bit of politics. So, she now has her name back in the spotlight without even having to go through the many pain barriers implicit in sitting down to get a book out there. But somewhat generously, she does provide us with a chapter on her own methods of conceiving and delivering a work of fiction.

The overriding gist of this collection, and hinted at in the title, is that a writer grows over the course of a decade, and with it their opinions shift and flow as their experience and understanding (or incomprehension) of the world develops. ‘The time to make your mind up about people is never’ a line she merrily quotes from her favourite film The Philadelphia Story, uttered by her favourite actress, Katharine Hepburn. Curiously, she writes beautifully and personally about cinema but when she tackles literature (Franz Kafka and David Foster Wallace are two of her chosen authors), there seems to be a disappointing distance at play as though she is too respectful of her vocation. Fortunately, and unlike some of her fictional endeavours, the essays here are never wearisome and overburdened by tricksiness. If she does change one thing, it would be a pleasure if she could carry such focus into her novels.

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