Sunday, June 18, 2006

Zadie and the Characters

Well, I've been away and while I was Zadie Smith won the Orange prize. How can I not be glad, I love Zadie, I love her linguistic talent and empathy, I love her take on contemporary society and the way she can pin it down via its linguistic codes, I love her human understanding. But something makes me sad, and it's that Ali Smith or Hilary Mantel or Nicole Krauss didn't win.

Maybe it's that I can't stand the idea of competition, the idea that one kind of writing should be pitted against another (it takes all sorts, after all) , but it's also that I'm a champion of the kind of interiority that these other writers practise, and which I don't think Zadie quite achieves. Zadie is so good at describing people and replicating the way they speak that you'd think they were there in front of you, but there's something dramatic, rather than novelistic, in the way she does it. She doesn't quite inhabit their mentality, however brilliantly she pins it down. However empathic she is there's always an ironic detachment which is akin to that of the playwright. Ali Smith and Sarah Waters eschew that coolness of irony and inhabit utterly the psyches of their characters, which to me is the bravest novelistic step of all.
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