Paragraphs: Zadie Smith and Raymond Chandler

As mentioned, I’m reading Zadie Smith’s first novelWhite Teeth; it’s excellent, though I liked On Beauty better. But nothing in On Beauty really approaches the sustained uproariousness of the Chalfen section of White Teeth, which I’ve just now gotten to. The Chalfens are an idealized secular-liberal “modern” British family of the 1980s, a sort of updated version of the family Jane wishes herself half-into at the end of Half Magic. Through a bit of business involving a mishandled joint, the two working-class teens at the center of the book end up spending every Tuesday afternoon in the Chalfens’ enthusiastic company.

Oh, to have the pitch control to write this:

“You’ll stay for dinner, won’t you?” pleaded Joyce. “Oscar really wants you to stay. Oscar loves having strangers in the house, he finds it really stimulating. Especially brown strangers! Don’t you, Oscar?”

“No, I don’t,” confided Oscar, spitting in Irie’s ear. “I hate brown strangers.”

“He finds brown strangers really stimulating,” whispered Joyce.

Also, via MetaFilter commenter George_Spiggott, Raymond Chandler in 1953 does his impression of science fiction:

“I checked out with K 19 on Aldebaran III, and stepped out through the crummalite hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Brylls ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was ice cold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brylls shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn’t enough. The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough. He was right.”

Classic.

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One thought on “Paragraphs: Zadie Smith and Raymond Chandler

  1. I’m always glad to see some love for White Teeth, even if the author has openly expressed her dissatisfaction with/remoteness from it. Just one instance off the top of my head: the “acronym problem” shouldn’t be funny, but it always cracks me up on a reread.

    I found the Chalfens incredibly annoying on first read, but since some of that is intentional, I find it less grating when I occasionally go back to the book.

    (Oh, and I’m afraid that since I got tagged with a meme, I thought I’d pass it on here; apologies if it’s unwanted, please feel free to ignore.)

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