I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Puttin’ On the Ritz

Puttin’ On the Ritz

Patricia Craig
Feel Free, by Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton, 452 pp, £20, ISBN: Zadie Smith is an enterprising and accomplished novelist. Like her near-namesake Ali Smith, she has perfected an unusual approach to the art of fiction (one is famous for being quirky, while the other is richly colloquial and discursive). She electrified readers back in 2000 with her novel White Teeth, which announced itself as something of a tract for the times, with its spirited ironies and melting-pot abundance, its ebullient interplay of individuals with one another. Between it and Swing Time (2016) her attitude has sharpened perhaps, as her sense of the world has expanded, but what remains consistent in her work is its alliance of contemporaneity with intellectual force ‑ and this is true of her non-fiction as well as her fiction. She is a compelling essayist who turns her intensive scrutiny on an amazing variety of topics. Whatever engages her attention ‑ avant garde film, questions of class and caste, the shattering implications of Brexit, modern city life ‑ takes on an invigorating particularity by virtue of the unique sensibility brought to bear on it. Like its predecessor Changing My Mind (2009), Feel Free, with its title, proclaims its intention to eschew the impersonal. There’s nothing of the lofty or detached perspective about the essays assembled here. Instead, they are alive with self-awareness and alert to every nuance of contemporary hustle-and-bustle. They are free to roam where they will: to a dismayed contemplation of the blurring of seasonal distinctions, to the paintings of Sickert and Degas, to the author’s home territory in northwest London, to trips to Europe and a New York sojourn. At one level, with their pungent autobiographical details, they add up to an appetite for experience in full flow. Actually, although it’s everywhere between the lines, an overt autobiographical element is judiciously restrained. It’s just a matter of side glances at university teaching, at motherhood, at a long car trip to a wedding in Wales. It is during the last that a moment of epiphany occurs, with a glorious description of Tintern Abbey ‑ “Reduced to a Gothic skeleton, the abbey is penetrated by beauty from above and below” ‑ and this is accompanied by a sudden revaluation of the singer Joni Mitchell, a bolt from the blue: “How is it possible to hate something so completely and then suddenly love it so unreasonably?” The conjunction of Tintern, Wordsworth with his…

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