White Teeth by Zadie Smith

I was really quite disappointed with this book. After reading all the fantastic reviews this book has gotten since it was published in 2000, I was expecting something really good but unfortunately, for me, it was (dare I say it) a bit boring. The story of the novel, as it followed all the characters from their different cultural and historical backgrounds, was interesting but not compelling. Several times while reading it, I contemplated giving up and not even bothering to finish it – my only real incentive for continuing was so that I could review it on my blog!

I think the problem was that I didn’t really feel any connection with the characters. I felt that too often she went off on a tangent about the family history of the characters, citing great grandfathers and other distantly related family members that really slowed the pace of the story. Although I understood the importance of all the connections and how she was showing the significance of cultural history, ultimately these were the sections that I always wanted to skip. Just like Magid, Millat and Irie complained about their fathers always talking about their experiences in the war, always repeating the same stories, I felt the same and was sick of hearing about past generations of family members.

I have perhaps been a little harsh in making the novel sound so dull (I have definitely read much worse!) but I couldn’t say that I would recommend the book to any of my friends. I think the way Smith handles a story with several overlapping cultures, families and generations is really good but I think that’s also the problem with this book. I thought that the novel lacked an overall cohesiveness that would normally move the story forwards, almost as if the history behind all the characters was a weight to drag behind because there was just too much to carry. The book was definitely verging on the slow-moving side and it was an effort at times to keep reading.

I think one of the positive things I could say about this book is that it’s quite funny. The humour is not exactly laugh out loud but it is witty. It started in the first chapter when she made Archie’s attempted suicide (not the usual comedy moment!!) into something humorous – his rescue by the halal butcher did make me laugh – and there were several parts throughout the book that I thought were amusing. I think this was probably what kept me interested when I felt like giving up with it after a tedious section.

Another thing I liked about the novel was the irony of how the twins, Magid and Millat, turned out after their different upbringings. I don’t want to give too much away but it did make me think about the affect of your family, your parents, your friends, your education, where you grow up, etc. on how your form your religious and political views. It was interesting how the twins almost swapped the roles that their father had assigned them in his head and why this happened when it seemed almost inevitable that it would go the way he had planned.

However, all in all, I wouldn’t rate this novel very highly amongst others I have read. It didn’t capture my imagination or sustain my attention, I don’t think it even grabbed my attention in the first place. I always felt like I was waiting for something to happen and I was never excited by the events of the story as they unfolded. I am disappointed, especially because another of her novels is on my reading list for the start of my term in September so I was hoping that after reading ‘White Teeth’ I would be eager to get started. Unfortunately I can’t say that I am but maybe ‘On Beauty’ will prove to be better. At least I’m willing to give it a try.




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