Tuesday, January 30, 2018


The Autograph Man
Zadie Smith
Random House

Ms. Hen picked this book up because she read WHITE TEETH last year and enjoyed it. This book is different, but charming in its own way. It is about young man, Alex-Li Tandem, who collects, and buys and sells autographs for a living.

Alex is half Jewish and half Chinese. The opening scene shows Alex with his friends and his father at a wrestling match. Alex is getting an autograph from a wrestler with his new friend, Joseph, who introduces him to collecting autographs at the arena, and Alex's father dies right there. This scars him permanently.

The novel follows Alex-Li through the train wreck of his life. He’s a mess. In the beginning, he has done some type of drug, and does not know how he has spent the past few days. Every one of his friends is angry with him. He is obsessed with the obscure film star Kitty Alexander because her autograph is the hardest to obtain, since she hardly ever signed any. He writes letters to her describing what he imagines her own life to be.

Alex’s girlfriend, Esther, has a pacemaker, which he loves. Ms. Hen has not read many novels in which young people have pacemakers, so she thinks this is quirky. Currently Ms. Hen knows a lot about them, since it’s her day job. She didn’t know that you could see them under the skin, and touch them. Alex does this in a way that is erotic, which Ms. Hen thinks is odd. But Alex is an odd character.

This novel has a lot of Jewish mysticism in it. Alex’s friend, Adam, is interested in this subject. Adam is trying to get Alex to say Kaddish for his father, since he never did when his father first died. Adam tells Alex that this is important, that he should respect the dead, but Alex doesn’t want to do it, because his father was Chinese, and also because he is afraid.

This is a very loud novel. It races around from place to place, from person to person, and does not stop. Ms. Hen couldn’t figure out if she liked Alex or if she didn’t. He is a type of jerk that Ms. Hen doesn’t think she would want to hang out with. But he has fascinating qualities, obsessions that he would not let go. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is supposed to make Alex appealing.

This book is paced very well. It seems as if there are plot points along the way, which are turning points, such as the way a film is supposed to be written. There are moments when the story changes, and the action rises and falls. Ms. Hen admires this, and she knows it takes skill to write this way.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t love the character. There was something unpleasant about him. She doesn’t think this is the best novel she has read recently, but it is entertaining. It isn’t enlightening or beautiful or poignant. It’s just a fast-paced romp through one guy’s messed up, but cool life.

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