Booksnakes Round 2: The Zadie Smith Enigma

by rosalyster

One of the questions on the Booksnakes Questionnaire is:

Which author do you feel certain would personally dislike you?

I love reading all the answers, to all the questions, but I cannot deny that my heart speeds up a bit when I get round to this one. It’s my favourite. If you want to get to know someone, you should ask them this question. It is like peering straight into their soul.

Some of the answers I could predict, or at least feel unsurprised by. For instance, my dad saying that he feels certain that Virginia Woolf would personally dislike him does not come as a great shock. Ditto my mum and JM Coetzee.

Three different people, so far, have said Donna Tartt. This answer knocks me out, and I love it, but it’s not a surprise. Donna Tartt is a chilling, harrowing presence. Also, the three people who gave her as an answer are all quite thoughtful, quite self-deprecating or at least self-aware, and I find it very easy to imagine all three of them looking inside themselves and coming up with Donna Tartt.

Martin Amis came up a bit as well, which makes a lot of sense. He is clearly the kind of person who would trip you up at a dinner party when you were saying a stupid and throwaway thing. He would ask you to repeat it, and then raise his eyebrows and say “goodness me” in a quiet voice, or else “extraordinary”,  and make you feel like a terrible idiot all evening and then you go home and realise that actually it wasn’t even that stupid of a thing to say, but it is too late, and now you must live with the humiliation forever.

My own answer was nearly Martin Amis, but I ended up going with Kingsley. Also Philip Larkin and Nabokov, and Sylvia Plath.

Here are some other answers, all of which seem eminently reasonable:

“Stephen Pinker. And Paulo Coelho.”

“Any of the ones worth a damn.”

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”

“Stephen King.”

All fine, all comprehensible.

But then! Who should emerge sinister from the shadows but Zadie Smith? Zadie Smith!

Four different people have said her! A lot of people, when pressed, have said that she was nearly their answer, edged out at the last minute by Donna Tartt or an Amis. I don’t understand it at all. It’s Zadie Smith! She seems so kind and beautiful. She writes so nicely about her dad and her dog and her little girl. She has a groovy husband. She writes nicely about him too. If I had ever thought about it, I would have said for sure that Zadie Smith would love me. Not because I am so lovable, but because I feel that Zadie Smith has space in her heart for all creatures of the earth. Is this wrong? It feels right. What are other people seeing that I am not?

I googled “Zadie Smith is a terrible person” and came up with nothing much, except one article that was so sexist it made my eyes water. Its opening paragraph contains the following sentence: “She’s smart, thin… and the best looking person in the room.” Thin. Besides from that, not much.

So. Zadie Smith. A dog whistle of a person, who emits a shrill and terrifying sound that only a very few can hear. What is it though, that they are hearing? I would love to know. Follow up questions coming.