Essays: Zoe Williams |
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Zoe Williams

Zoe WilliamsIn the British press, the female columnist is no longer a rare species. Once it would have seemed unlikely that there could ever be more than half a dozen recognizable names in that role. Now it is a crowded field, and standing out from it is not easy. But one who does is Zoe Williams, not just for her sanity but for her wonderfully unencumbered style, alive with the rhythms of a wild conversation she is having with herself. So relaxed a precision doesn’t come along often. The Italians have a word for it – disinvoltura – but we, alas, don’t. Maybe we should just call it the Zoe effect. Equipped with this uncanny ability to reach out of the page and flick food crumbs off your lapels, she never writes a piece you can ignore. But as with anyone else in the must-read category who hits regular deadlines, she produces certain pieces that are even catchier than the rest, probably because they are written not just in reaction to the passing day, but because they draw on a long-cherished subject. In 2002 I read, in the Guardian magazine, her long feature article on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I thought, before I had finished the first page, that it was one of the best things about popular culture I had ever seen. By the time I reached the end – not wanting it to end, which is always an even better sign with journalism than it is with a book – I knew it was a classic. With its author’s permission, I am glad to present it here, for the delight of older visitors who might regret that that they did not know more about contemporary vampire control, and for the instruction of younger visitors, from all over the world, who might nurse dreams of getting into this kind of journalism in their own countries. The answer is, if you understand the discipline of putting opinion and fact together so that one blends with the other without blurring its edges, you very well might. Just look at the way she does that, and ask yourself if you ever learned so much so fast about anything. But I wouldn’t recommend trying to echo her style. Her skateboarding syntax and impressionistic sentence structure are held together by an infallible ear, and it’s probably better to try writing an ordinary paragraph first.