Such is the cult of the celebrity author in contemporary publishing that it is easy for a work of real talent to be smothered, or swept away altogether, by the tide of hype that inevitably surrounds the discovery of the latest bright young thing. Two years ago, when Zadie Smith was only twenty-two, her unfinished first novel was sold on a mere eighty pages for a hefty six-figure advance (and yet more for the foreign rights), the sort of news that had more mature authors gnashing their teeth, railing against the publicity machine and gleefully prophesying doom. But unlike some other recent, overpaid and overhyped young authors, Smith has come up with the goods. The gamble has paid off. White Teeth is an extraordinary first novel with a strong and individual voice, all the more extraordinary if we remember (as we will hardly be allowed to forget) that its author is still only twenty-four.
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