Book Review: The Autograph Man

the-autograph-manRead for: ‘Cuz it’s Zadie

Rating: 4/5

This has been sitting on my shelf for an entire lifetime and I finally picked it up this week, which seemed appropriate seeing as FanExpo was in town and I was temporarily morphed into an autograph man myself. I read White Teeth and On Beauty a long long time ago and I barely remember what they were about, but I do recall liking them and finding them extraordinarily funny and clever. And I feel the same way about the Autograph Man. I’ve seen online that this was not a favourite of Zadie’s fans, and I’m not totally sure why. Sure, the premise was a bit wacky; Alex-Li Tandem is an Anglo-Chinese Jew living in London who collects and sells autographs. Following an episode fueled by psychedelic drugs he comes to his senses to discover he holds in his hands a postcard autographed by Kitty Alexander, a highly reclusive old Hollywood actress he has been obsessed with for over 10 years, only he can’t explain where the autograph came from and he isn’t sure if he himself forged it while in a frazzled state of drug-induced hallucinations. Not in a million years would I ever guess a book about this would ever be written. And while I didn’t particularly connect with Alex, he really was a selfish, oblivious jerk, I did think the characterization and plot were brilliant. Zadie has a way of making the most mundane things funny; one scene where Alex runs into his childhood friend – who is now a Rabbi – and his two Rabbi buddies trying to load a piece of furniture into the boot of a car had me laughing out loud. This book also contains a lot of Jewish humour, clearly, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Alex is in the process of writing a book about the world and how all things can be categorized as either Jewish or Goyish, which I thought made the whole atmosphere of the book feel very Woody Allen (in a good way). There were so many sentences in this book that I flagged, they were worded so perfectly. While the plot plods along slowly in places – Zadie digresses fairly frequently before returning to the matter at hand – I thought it all unfolded really smoothly, and in the end I was happy I finally read it. I was poking through my GR bookshelves recently and of 355 books by female authors I’ve read only 55 were by Women of Colour, and I’m making a conscious effort to improve those numbers. I’ve got Zadie’s NW on the shelf and I’m looking forward to diving into it now. I’ll cap off this review by making the international gesture for a book greatly enjoyed; fingers curled into a fist and thumb sticking straight up.

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