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Ambitious failure

Zadie Smith is a talented young writer who may yet produce great fiction. Her third novel, "On Beauty," has its moments but its satire of the academy is laboured and its imitation of EM Forster unsubtle

By Robert Alter   December 2005

Precocious success can often be a burden to a writer, and this appears to be the case for Zadie Smith. Her ambitious first novel, White Teeth, published when she was barely two years out of university, won wide and richly deserved acclaim from critics and readers. It bustled with energy, revealed a rare generosity of imagination and rendered the multicultural scene of contemporary London with unflagging satirical zest as well as sympathetic understanding. One readily forgave the moments—and there were more than a few of them—when the book’s profusion of florid detail began to seem a little excessive because the…

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