BOOKS: A Frenzy of Renown

In Zadie Smith's new novel, fame substitutes for religion--and witty concepts for emotional heft

Of the many subjects in Zadie Smith's second novel--Buddhism, Jewish mysticism, the Hollywood studio system--one that she presumably did not have to research was the bug-light allure of celebrity. In 2000, at age 24, she became deservedly famous for White Teeth, a sprawling, erudite comedy about culture clash and bioengineering in postcolonial Britain. Brilliant, young and beautiful, she became a favorite of the British media, which followed her love life and hairstyle changes with a fervor Americans reserve for cast members of Friends.

The hunger to get a piece of the famous and the psychology behind that desire are the...

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