Obooki’s Survey of Contemporary Literature ed Zadie Smith

#5 Andrew O’Hagan – Gordon

This is a short

story which tells a man’s life in brief paragraphs, each of them serving up some emblematic moment from said life. I suppose it’s a nice idea, but

in this case comes out pretty dull. (Instead of one fatuous symbol at the end; we are treating to eight or nine). Unlike the famous American critic,

Kakutani, I was able to recognise that Gordon was Gordon Brown – although, to be fair, I do live in the right country to know this, and I didn’t

notice it for most of the story. What gave it away was the line:

When the taxi brought him back one night to Millbank, he pondered that

Islington drink, and watched the news with a growing sense of hatred.

I was just thinking, reading it, that Millbank wasn’t in

Islington and what sense could I make of the sentence anyway, when I remembered something about British politics, and then a whole argument about how

Kakutani hadn’t noticed it was Gordon Brown etc. – It’s not so easy, especially since in the previous paragraph we’re told he wrote a book, which

is implied (but not explicitly stated) to be a work of fiction – so naturally we’re thinking, Oh, a writer writing about a writer – how original is

that anyway!  – But no, we’ll have to wait for the next story for some metafiction (probably!).

This trick – the gradual dawning realisation

of Gordon being Gordon Brown – seems to be the point of the story. At least, I can’t see any other – not that would make it worth expending energy

writing at least.

#6 Zadie Smith – Hanwell Sr

Talking of ideas that would be worth energy writing, you’d think

wouldn’t you, if you commissioned 22 other writers to write short stories based on “character”, that perhaps you’d have a decent idea yourself in

the first place. – But no, you couldn’t be more wrong. – There seems very little about this that would interest anyone: – same old dull people,

leading the same old dull lives, and having the same old dull thoughts, slowly, with lots of incidental detail. (I shall start cut and pasting


Shall I mention the metafictional elements? – Perhaps not. (I am beginning to mix up these stories anyway. I could have sworn Z Smith

mentioned Hamlet – and it seemed likely, since the story’s about an absent father and she’s not averse to that kind of thing – but when I went back

to look for it, it was actually in the O’Hagan story above).

#7 Nick Hornby (with Posy Simmonds) – J Johnson

We shall

pass over this as if we never saw it. It’s probably for the best.

I shall now go back to reading King Solomon’s Mines,

to counteract the effects of dullness.


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