White Teeth by Zadie Smith
by Zadie Smith
White Teeth is Zadie Smith’s acclaimed debut novel, and what a great debut it was. It was published to much critical acclaim and is as relevant today as it was back in 2000. It is not the first of her books I have read but is undoubtedly the best so far.
It tells the story of two unlikely friends and their dysfunctional families across three generations. Concentrating on three points during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, we are introduced to the most mixed-up set of characters outside of a TV soap.
It is a chance meeting during the later stages of the Second World War that first bring Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal together. Thirty years later, and both with young wives, the pair are reunited. Their shared experience creates a bond that will last a lifetime, but it a friendship not without its problems. Struggling with the challenges of parenthood, the old friends follow very different paths.
Taking up the reigns of the story, the next generation of Jones’ and Iqbal’s face very different challenges.
What I really liked about this book was the way that cultural clashes between the characters highlight the struggles within multicultural Britain through the decades but in a very amusing way. There is comedy in even the most serious of situations and in White Teeth, Zadie Smith captures it perfectly. There are plenty of laughs but also some touching insights into how the various prejudices and assumptions on every side impact our relations.
White Teeth is a compelling yet surprisingly easy read. The subjects tackled by Zadie are as serious and relevant today as they ever were, but the way she deals with them is more entertaining than preaching.
As an introduction to Zadie Smith’s writing, this is as good as it gets. It is a book I would happily recommend to anyone.
This book was a bit of a gamble. I had read another of Smith’s books, “N-W” earlier in the year, and was not impressed at all. But having read so much about her, I thought maybe I am missing something. Anyway, when I came across “On Beauty” in a book shop during the summer I thought “Why not – everyone deserves a second chance.”
The story centres around two very different families and their working and emotional ties and is set mainly in New England, with occasional trips to the London suburbs. It is all about relationships; those we have with our families, our work colleagues and lovers. All of the characters in the book are forced at some point to question their feelings about those they love and come to terms with their own failings.
The two feuding families – the liberal Belseys and the conservative Kippses – must look beyond their differences and find ways to get along as their lives become closely entwined.
On Beauty is actually quite a funny book in placers, despite the strong moral message about love and family ties. Some of the twist and turns are reminiscent of a soap opera, but are delivered with much more finesse.
Personally I am very glad I took the chance on this book which I found to be a captivating read. I really enjoyed the way the characters were portrayed and felt an instant affinity with all the characters.
by Zadie Smith
I have heard of Zadie Smith and seen her referred to in several articles recently as part of the discussions about the content of the English Literature courses and exams. So, in an effort to understand the educational debates, I decided it was time to give it a go.
Did I enjoy the book? Not sure actually.
Certainly I can see what people will think she is worthy of reading and there is plenty of scope for debate and analysis.
“N-W” is set in North West London (hence the title) and tells the stories of four old school friends. Through the book we get a glimps into the lives of people growing up on inner London estates and the challenges they face.
The reviews for the book said it was “brilliant” and “intensely funny”. Personally I found it interesting, challenging and at time difficult to follow.
Zadie Smith tells each of the four tales in different styles, something which can work (see my previous review of “It’s a kind of Magic”), but in this case I just found confusing. The staccato phrasing, the way dialogue and narration often ran into each other with no punctuation I found irritating.
Whilst I can see the literary merit, and how the story may be seen as “relevant” I don’t think I will be rushing out to buy another.