Anthony Cummins has written to me responding to the recent discusion around here on Zadie Smith. With his permission, I reproduce Anthony's email to me below:

Excuse the ramble which follows, but it's fascinating to follow the cackhanded response to Zadie Smith's superb NYRB essay via ReadySteadyBook. Via Monk's House I note: "And maybe Smith in quarreling with Netherland is quarreling in part with James Wood, from whom she has famously diverged before, and who ecstatically reviewed O'Neill in the pages of The New Yorker."

I think this is the key -- not a side issue -- in understanding what Smith's on about: "Lyrical Realism" -- an odd term she must repeat so much only because of Wood's "hysterical realism" tag; the emphasis on Flaubert, the darling of How Fiction Works; the fact that Wood effectively made the reputation of Netherland; HFW vs DFW. The NYRB already reviewed Netherland, too, when Alan Hollinghurst wrote about it the other month: how often does that happen? I reckon it's a more calculated attack on Wood and How Fiction Works than people seem to have realised.

Did you catch this interview with Robert Silvers? "'[Zadie's article is] an ambitious essay, a daring and original piece by a brilliant mind,' Silvers said. In it, she dismantles the status quo in the form of a review of two new novels - Netherland and Remainder - that she holds up as representing where the novel's been and where it's going. 'Some people will be slightly shaken,' Silvers said, with delight." Among them James Wood? It's quite curious since John Banville's moderate piece on HFW immediately precedes Smith's essay. I suspect it has something to do with heralding Smith's arrival as a Wood-status critic pre-Fail Better.

Readers Comments

  1. I'm a new reader here, having discovered you through the first lit blogs I came across, Eleg Var and Nigel Nota Bene. This Zadie Smith dust-up has made it very clear that I am on your side of the argument and am much more at home here! Kudos to Zadie Smith. Someone needs to attack this lyrical realism, anti-experimentation, James Wood and other gatekeepers for restricting their own and others' ideas of what literature is and can and must be. Original, exciting work should not be found only on the rosters of New Directions and Dalkey Archive. The literary mainstream needs a lot more diversity, especially among U.S. writers. The fact that Zadie Smith is such a large figure and is coming out with more criticism is very exciting indeed. She's very brave to be doing this.

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