Latest Issue

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…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect