White Teeth was a much more interesting read than I thought it would be. It was originally selected as one of the book group books for our AmeriCorps book group, but that sort of fell to the wayside a few months ago and I’d already purchased it.
As I was reading the book it constantly reminded me of little things in England, from mentioning my Uni (Leeds) to some of the towns and places I’d visited to foods and colloquialisms, and I think this made it much easier to read and more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Last year I attempted to read On Beauty, also by Zadie Smith, and couldn’t get through the first chapter.
Overall, the book itself was much easier to read and much more enjoyable than I first expected it to be. I attempted to read On Beauty, also by Zadie Smith, last year and couldn’t get past the first chapter. I believe a large portion of my enjoyment of this book were the title chapters, they clearly connected the title to the rest of the book, even if sometimes I kept wondering why the book was titled such.
As for the plot and the characters, I thought Alsana was brilliant and the Chalfens a great caricature of the upper-middle class academe. Archie and Samad got a bit tiring, but they did tie the entire story together, for obvious reasons. I’m not really sure about the Bowdens, but they were an interesting mirror to the Iqbals, so they also served their purpose. Sometimes I struggled with the jump between the times (three different distinct times) and forgot names as all of the characters are intertwined, but overall I thought it was well spaced and a unique way of formatting the book.
The ending on first thought was a bit of a let down, but having let it sink in, I will say I enjoyed the ending. It was a bit abrupt, but with the way the writing seemed more and more rushed (perhaps a nod to the various ‘end of the world’ streams moving through the novel), it definitely tied it together. One phrase on the final page tied it in to thoughts throughout the novel: ‘But surely to tell these tall tales and others like them would be to speed the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.’
I guess you would call them themes, but what I found most fascinating about the novel were the ways she dealt with gender, religion, nationality, science, sexuality, generation and class. Her descriptions and even the dialogue of how those who were different from each other interacted was generally well written and flowed easily. Sometimes it was a bit over the top, as in you’d forget momentarily that Irie is a half-Jamaican half-teenage young woman and then the author would beat you over the head with it, but that didn’t seem to happen too much of the time.
Considering that this was Zadie Smith’s first novel and she started it while still an undergrad, I would say I was impressed. After doing some research on the author, some of the parallel’s with her own life seemed to point to how she was able to write so convincingly about aspects of the characters (the race, the nationality, the gender, generation, etc). Although this seems to be one of the biggest critiques of On Beauty (the lack of genuineness in the characters), I’m convinced to give it another try, especially as it’s set in my new city of Boston!
I debated including White Teeth as I’d started it before I settled on doing the 50 books, but as I hadn’t finished it and needed an incentive to read the last three chapters, I decided to count it as my first book.
Quotes from White Teeth
“John Donne said more than kisses, letters mingle souls and so they do; Irie was alarmed to find such a commingling as this, such a successful merging of two people from ink and paper despite the distance between them. No love letters could have been more ardent. No passion more fully returned right from the very start.” – 304
“‘No, Joyce, love’s not the fucking reason.’ Irie was standing on the Chalfen doorstep, watching her own substantial breath in the freezing night air. ‘It’s a four-letter word that sells life insurance and hair conditioner.’” – 378
“We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greetings cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.” – 382
“It was the same now. Always the fear of consequences. Always this terrible inertia.” – 412
“If Star Wars–secretly Ryan’s favorite film–The Good! The Evil! The Force! So simple. So true–is truly the sum of all archaic myths and the purest allegory of life (as Ryan believed it was), then faith, unadulterated, ignorant faith, is the biggest fuck-fuck off lightsaber in the universe.” – 422