Raw Book Reviews by the Restlessly Deceased: T.S. Eliot on Zadie Smith

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Wherein Zadie Smith’s NW is given the once over by this week’s guest, Mr. T.S. Eliot.



I do not care for love songs, I no longer care for Prufrock, and I have never cared for Ms. Smith.


Let us turn then, you and I, the pages of this outsized volume, where the endless words and endless commas and blighted urban grammar is spread across bound binding, as a dinner rots across a folded table or a beggar left bereft in the deserted streets. Like the felled thoughts of Hesiod forced into wrong turns and dark corners, worked again into the words and bound worlds of harlots and cheap hotels, Leah Hanwell standing on oyster shells, on the broken spines of broken characters. In Ms. Smith’s argot they are not inspirations, they are insidious, they are without intent, they simply are. Parodic, cheaply aspiring, thinly drawn. Their own shambling satires, without finesse, over dressed. In sight of their lack of insides, of insight.

“In Willesden people go barefoot, the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside. She keeps to the shade. Redheaded. On the radio: I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me. A good line.”

No, not a good line. Far from it, a bad line that ladders and rungs and lingers. You are the sole author of the thesaurus that fails you, that pales to remind you, that flails to describe you, and rails on into the wasted night. The discordance of metropolis, the fierceness of fear, here and here and here. Flux.

And this passes for prose and plot, as our finger fallows along, follows away, says “let us go and make our visit” to sway a visitation of the brain, of the part of the brain, the open door, the flung dooryard that allows and processes the mentation of such tedium, an argument without victor or purpose.

In this novel, women come and go, Natalie and Keisha in the council flats of Caldwell. An escape is made, a melding of tongues and ethnicities, most odiously gutter London, broad Saff London, the angry yoof of Hackney, the chavs along the Charles, who lick their tongues into the corners of the pages, an evening of which can never be regained, the Guns of Brixton and soft feet in the Hammersmith Palais, words falling softly on the hard sidewalk of a harder October night.

A formal sobriety, the limitations of desire, the lamentations of a hundred decisions, of visions and revisions, Marvell had his Coy Mistress and I this thick volume, and both of us left to wonder, how much longer before we go under. “Do I dare?” “Do I dare?” to just put it down and perhaps read a magazine instead?

No. I will not disturb the universe. I will do as I have been tasked, the minutes will reverse, the verses will be minute, music from a farther room, evenings, mornings, and afternoons, just as NW is broken into three parts.

Let us take the first, the character Leah: the butt end of my days, just like Salome’s, my head on a platter grown slightly bald though no matter, I am not a prophet and I did not profit from this underwritten section.

The second, one Felix Cooper, what makes him digress, a lonely man in shirtsleeves at dusk in the narrow streets, the floors of silent seas, the streets of London and its disease, formerly coked up down to his knees, he has found sobriety. Like Lazarus coming out of the cave of opiates, come from the dead full raised, full of apologies, full of high sentence. To tell us all, or to tell you all, I am not sure I am any longer paying attention. A pillow under my head, that is not what I meant, but it is what I want: to have bitten off the matter with guile, without a smile, to have squeezed these chapters, and the universe, into a ball.

The third is of Natalie, slick and rootless, without depth, all sunset and dooryard and sprinkled streets, skirts and teacups and worldly disdain, understanding even less than the characters, than the author–that there is no meaning, in flesh, in pain, in prose, in any of us, there will be a time to murder and create. And there will be a time to send it back to your editor for another draft.

I am no Hamlet. I am no prince or attendant lord. I am no Polonius, no fool, no Rubaiyat.

I am dead, and down here where a harsh wind blows, turns the water white and black, sea-girls wreathed from front to back, with sentences and allusions, literary contusions, endless confusions.

I do not think they sing to me.

Or toward me.

Or at me.

Or for me.

I have grown very old. And tired.

I will read no more, the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

And black with ink.



A special thanks to this week’s author-channel and celebrity medium, Concetta Bertoldi.

Concetta Bertoldi says: "Shit. I never understood me no poetry anyhow."


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About Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of five novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His new short story collection, Welcome Thieves, is just out with Algonquin Books.
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One Response to Raw Book Reviews by the Restlessly Deceased: T.S. Eliot on Zadie Smith

  1. Anne M. P. says:

    Damn straight, TS.

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