The Short Version: It's been quite a couple of days for British literature. First, the Booker Shortlist comes out and most of the names you're sure are going to be on there are nowhere to be seen. Then, Zadie Smith says all this awful stuff about London and England while in the States and apparently thinks no one over here will find out about it, perhaps because of the "general stupidity" in her home country. But of course everyone in London has the Internet. Maybe that slipped her mind.
The Long Version: Zadie Smith gave an interview to New York Magazine this week (she apparently doesn't give interviews in the London press as a general rule, and after reading the following quote, you'll probably understand why), in which she offered a scathing critique of England:
When I talk about England now I just think about the England that I loved, and it’s just gone. It’s the way people look at each other on the train; just general stupidity, madness, vulgarity, stupid TV shows, aspirational arseholes, money everywhere. It’s just a disgusting place. It’s terrifying. Maybe I’m just getting old.
It didn't take long for the British press to catch wind, and while we like to pretend we're above such things, it's hard not to be intrigued by the backlash. The Guardian notes that she doesn't seem to have much regard for the place that allowed her to make "her name - and a fair few pence - with a novel that celebrated England's multi-culturalism,"while the Telegraph calls her statement "astonishing" and notes that "[t]he novelist does not appear to be completely averse to the baser forms of commerce that she says she despises."
Smith then responded to the attacks in an interview with the BBC:
I love England but the things that I don't love about it are those things - I don't love trash TV and I'm sad when I see people glaring at each other on the Tube...Those things upset me, but they only upset you when you love your country so much that you're sad when you feels bit of it to be in decline.
In her defence, we will say that for the most part, we have nothing but the utmost respect for Smith. All the same, we can't wait to see how the whole situation plays out. If you dole stuff like that out, after all, you've gotta be prepared to take it, as well.
Moving on (sort of)...In that same interview, when asked if she thought she'd finally make the Booker Shortlist, Smith replied, "No, there’s no chance. Have you seen the fucking list?" As you may recall, this year's crop of British novels is truly exceptional. However, when all was said and done, the biggest names were for the most part left out to dry: Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and JM Coetzee all failed to make the Shortlist. But Smith's novel, On Beauty, did indeed make it through, proving her incontrovertably wrong in at least one statement made in the now infamous interview.
And now, after all that, we bring you the real news, the 2005 Booker Shortlist:
John Banville, for The Sea
Julian Barnes, for Arthur and George
Sebastian Barry, for A Long Long Way
Kazuo Ishiguro, for Never Let Me Go
Ali Smith, for The Accidental
Zadie Smith, for On Beauty
The winner will be announced on October 10th. We hope Zadie wins, just so we can see her acceptance speech.