Zadie Smith burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with her first novel, White Teeth, when she was still studying at Cambridge University. In the time since, Smith has become one of the UK’s most influential writers with her novels, non-fiction and short stories.
If you enjoyed Swing Time and want to read more of Zadie Smith’s work, or if you’re new to her novels and you aren’t sure where to start, take a look at our guide to her best works.
Zadie Smith's Best Works
So desperate were publishers to get their hands on Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, that there was a bidding war for the rights before she had even finished writing it. White Teeth instantly became a best-seller and won a number of honours, and Smith was undeniably a writer to watch. White Teeth follows the friendship between two Londoners: working-class Archie and Samad, a Muslim from Bangladesh, and the interlacing fates of their families.
Smith’s second novel confirmed what readers and critics alike had suspected after White Teeth: that Smith was a talent to be reckoned with. The Autograph Man delves into our contemporary obsession with celebrity, following Jewish-Chineese Londoner, Alex-Li Tandem. Obsessed with an elusive American-Russian, Alex’s journey sheds light on what it means to meet your idols, and why the heart wants what it wants.
On Beauty delves into the heart of love and family, examining a feud between the Belseys and the Kipps. Smith tenderly asks what life does to love and how far it can endure, between family ties, doomed affairs and clashing politics. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize when it was published, and it is no surprise: the book is as powerful as it is funny and humane.
Smith is also a prolific editor of collections, and The Book of Other People is a fine example of this. Here, Smith introduces a collection of brand new stories from some of the world’s most exciting writers in the English language. From David Mitchell to Colm Tóibín and A.M. Homes, The Book of Other People offers up these writers’ unique voices and a collection of fascinating characters to boot.
For a better look at the person behind the words, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays gives a fascinating insight into Smith, her life and her thoughts. A collection of essays which touch on everything from her late father to cinema and art, here, Smith writes with a candour that is rare to find.
Mapping the lives of four Londoners who grew up together on a council estate, NW shows just how colourful and complicated life can be. Here, Smith toys with form, shifting from stream of consciousness to the first person to the third, capturing the frenetic feel of the city. Smith explores class, chance encounters and leaving childhood behind through the prism of her characters’ lives.
The Embassy of Cambodia returns to the territory of NW, Willesden in north-west London. First published in the New Yorker in 2013, this story follows Fatou, a young woman who has escaped one hardship only to find herself in worse. Zadie Smith's absorbing, moving and wryly observed story suggests how the apparently small things in an ordinary life always raise larger, more extraordinary questions.