on June 14, 2003
Yes, I understand that seems like a contradiction, but it was the exact feeling I had when reading this book. Tehre were so many stories and subplots and new plots getting introduced near the completion of the book. Suffice it to say I was greatly dissapointed with this read.
To give a summary, I am not even sure where to start. It actually did start out pretty strong. With tales of an old friends and their distinctions, I thought it would at least be a well thought out book about friendship. About a quarter of the way through, things take a turn for the worse and never really get back to the zealous and picturesque story telling that occured in the beginning. By time I was about 2/3 of the way away from completion, I couldn't wait to put it down. Because I always finish books, I stuck it out, but believe me it was a chore. There were a few moments of clarity where I thought things from the end would somehow tie into things for the beginning, but really that never happened. I mean in the end we find the entire basis of the book, the only redeeming quality of life long friendship, was a fallacy in the first place, and instead of expanding on this- even a little bit, the author just ends the book. I mean really, what was the point?
on October 16, 2001
WHITE TEETH's problem is less its story than Ms Smith's style, which reminded me immediately of Douglas Adams. But while the late Adams's constant authorial presence, leaning over the reader's shoulder to shoot acute observations at his characters, their plight or just plain LIFE, was perfect for his offbeat genre fiction, it is immediately grating in WHITE TEETH. The author lacks the wit (and, perhaps, life experience?) to make that style work, and it sits poorly with the suburban banality she seeks to ground the characters in. Frantically page-turning to see when Marvin the Paranoid Android showed up, I bailed at ~p.100, with no interest in the characters whatsoever.
on October 8, 2001
There was a lot of hype about this book and I sat down with it looking for an intelligent, absorbing, old-fashioned good read.
Instead, I found a horribly over-written book about people and places that I could not warm up to no matter how I tried.
The world in this book is an ugly, lawless place filled with characters that become less and less endearing as the book goes on. I was looking forward to the ending as I'd heard that everything came together, but it did not in any meaningful fashion, and I was so relieved to finally finish it.
on August 31, 2001
When a writer has something important and meaningful to say about our society, commonsense suggests that the most effective way to communicate his or her message to the reader would be to write what is first and foremost an entertaining book. I'm sorry to say that Zadie Smith clearly has little respect for such a notion, because WHITE TEETH is unbelievably dull. Don't get me wrong; if preachy, long-winded diatribes, mannered dialogue, cultural/religious stereotypes and creaky 'Look at me! Aren't I clever?!' prose is your cup of tea, then you will be in heaven. But if you're looking for a truly exciting, powerful and intelligent debut book from a talented young writer, I would strongly suggest that you read either THE BEACH by Alex Garland, PROZAC NATION by Elizabeth Wurtzel, GENERATION X by Douglas Coupland, FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk, or THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by Jeffrey Eugenides instead. Just because everyone else has fooled themselves into thinking that Smith's novel is the best thing since sliced bread doesn't mean that you have to as well. WHITE TEETH is mind-numbing, overrated, overwritten tedium. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
on July 12, 2001
While reading this book, I had a dream that tells me all I need to know about Zadie Smith's "philosophy" in this vastly over praised diatribe against a meaningful life. The dream: on the deck of a ship is a living whale which is having its flesh carved from its body with sharp knives as it looks on with infinitely sad eyes.
Zadie Smith uses her sharp tongue to eviscerate life. All the characters in this book are the absolute worst of collective fools and despisers of life who haven't the self reflection or will to make the least little attempt to drag themselves from the cesspools from which they came. I wouldn't spend five minutes with any of these characters for fear of being tainted by their lunacy, lack of spirit and outright hatred of life. Take Archie a cipher who slouches through life pathetically flipping a coin to make decisions for him, he would even kill himself based on this chance event. And when "life"--in the form a deranged butcher who starts each day making a mad attempt at hacking live pigeons to death with a sharp cleaver-offers Archie a second chance his first act is to drive around until he finds a commune in which he can get drunk and laid-what magnificent philosophical insight. Archie's sole "contribution" to the world is saving the life of a Nazi eugenicist-and so it goes throughout this book.
Then there is Clara, future wife of Archie, whose mother is a Jehovah's Witness waiting for the second coming mostly in anticipation of seeing everyone, save the blessed 144,000 left standing at the world's end, having their "eyes melt in thier sockets" and being burned alive thereby giving justification of her clear and obsessive hatred of life. Clara just flips to some equally ridiculous opposite of this "religion" by becoming a drug taking slut - fine everybody needs to experience the different sides of themselves but no one in this book, and I mean no one, ever learns a thing from their experiences and grows from them; they are absolutely bound by their past with no hope or even reason to bother with making their future different.
I could go on and on about Smith's utterly offensive take on life as expressed through the characters of this novel. But a summary will do. All men, particularly fathers, are either fanatical, self delusional, masturbatory fools or flaccid, passive nothings. Women, who are no better, all make pathetic choices or allow choices to be made for them and then stay with them as if this were emblematic of love--but love of what?. Their children either become their soulless, spiritless parents or their equally execrable fanatical or flaccid opposites.
Smith refers to Yeat's poem The Second Coming which speaks to the coming of the Spiritus Mundi where "somewhere in the sands of the desert/A shape with lion body and head of a man,/A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,/Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it/Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds." But she invites the reader to mock this beast all the while beckoning it along.
This book is not funny, it is not wise and it is not a pleasure to read unless of course it makes you feel better, like Hortense (Clara's mother) to imagine life eviscerated before your very eyes. Smith wraps all this "philosophy" in fancy, glittering gibberish but it doesn't cover over the stink of her sense of the world. Everyone has white teeth, however Smith's, like Clara's have simply been knocked out leaving only a razor sharp tongue stripping the flesh from life.
on February 16, 2001
Don't believe the hype
I'm still trying to work out why all the critics gushed over this novel. All I can think is that they actually think this book is an honest, sincere glimpse into the life of Blacks and Asians in London. I think that is what's so frustrating about this book. Nothing rings true. If this book does open a floodgate of imitators (which I'm quite sure it will) I hope someone else with a bit more talent can improve on this. The worse thing would be that anyone got the impression that this is what London life is really like for us.
I finished this book not caring about ANY of the characters, which is surely not a good sign. Not Archie, not Samad, not Clara or Alsana, not Millat/Magid /the Chalfens and definitely not Irie - who I'm sure was supposed to hold this whole story together. There's not one sympathetic character within the pages. By the end of the book, you're left wondering why you wasted so much time (and it is a long book) reading about such a pathetic bunch of people.
Most of the critics seem to be in awe of what they consider as the author's confident, assured and mature style of writing (especially considering her young age, it's her first novel etc.). However, I think the tone of this novel is one of pure indulgence and arrogance. It appears that a thesaurus was used the whole way through the novel, (for every simple expression, the most elaborate word is substituted in its place, which meant the story was made unnecessarily laborious to follow.
The author also used half facts, and down right untruths about certain things pivotal to the story (i.e. the Jehovah's Witnesses religion, multicultural London life) to blatantly patronise and mislead the reader.
I am not a Jehovah's Witness, but I know for a fact, that Clara would not have been sent to a Catholic school, none of their members would wear a cross, they don't quote from the King James version of the bible and they don't sing secular hymns and they are not your stereotypical Pentecostal churchgoers, in fact a Witness wouldn't use the word church, the rank and file Witness does not have any influence on what is printed in their magazines (unlike Ryan Topps) and they would never - I repeat NEVER organise a protest for ANY reason.
These are all things that could have found out quite easily. The fact that it wasn't shows contempt for the reader as far as I'm concerned. The Witnesses are an easy target, but singling them out for what amounts to amateur attempt of humour is quite spineless. I
'm not an expert on the Muslim religion, but certainly this story isn't exactly a good advertisement for it either (but then it WAS recommended by Salmun Rushdie - perhaps that should have been a clue).
There was no real thread running through the story - it starts off following Archie, then skips to Clara, leaves Clara halfway through her story, jumps to Samad then to their children - but instead of fleshing out their characters, they're just left as empty shells, while the past history of characters who don't really have a lot of bearing on the story are delved into in far too much detail. Clara, who should have been a strong central character, seems to disappear from the whole story. Irie, who is a central character, ends up becoming spoil and vindictive. Samad and Alsana are just Asian caricatures, no depth, just the regular stereotypes. No one seemed to have any redeeming features..
There were a few times where I thought the story showed a bit of humour - the black hairdressers, the false teeth - even Joyce Chalfen (although she also seems to disappear half way through the story) but nothing about this novel was new or fresh. I hope no one read this thinking they were getting some sort of insight into how Black/Asian Londoners live - it doesn't even come close.
And what was that ending about? None of the ends are tied up. It all comes across as if the author is trying just that bit too hard to be clever. Perhaps the author really does need to mature.
In my opinion, this book is a wasted opportunity to put the real story of multicultural London out there.
on December 26, 2000
I know I'm going to confuse people by praising White Teeth and rating it with a single star, but I figured that if I give it the full 5 stars (which I was planning to do), my review would undoutedly be lost in a whole sea of other great reviews.
White Teeth is quite probably the best book I have read in a long time: I recently met up with a former English teacher and we began talking about books. I mentioned White Teeth and we just started jumping around excitedly, because she'd read it too and enjoyed it, perhaps, even more than I did...she actually asked an English friend about Willesden Green (where the novel is set) and confirmed that it is the sort of place Smith so vividly evokes it to be.
In response to critics of the book who label it 'too long', or boring, one cannot be impatient in dealing with such extraordinary material as this. It does hit hard: the action is far from being subdued, and the descriptions of place and character are both absurd yet rooted firmly in verisimilitude. I never felt that I had to 'plough through' the material: I enjoyed it immensely, especially how Smith converges ideology, religion and situation expertly as the novel accelerates towards the end.
Smith's style is ornately realistic, and White Teeth is filled with such ironic, as well as poignant instances of wit that elude most other novels. A true revolution in the literature of the modern (perhaps post-modern) genre! I may not have read a whole lot of books, but from an adolescent perspective, I think I do know a great book when I read one, and this is doubtless one of those rare gems that I'm glad I lived through!!
on July 15, 2001
It's tough to write a plausible novel in you mid-twenties. You've had limited life experience. Even worse, you don't yet realize that. If you're wise, you stick to your personal sphere and come out with something like disguised autobiography, and many authors have found success following that formula. Stray from it at your peril because if you're brilliant, you'll end up with Pickwick Papers. But if you're ordinary you'll produce something like White Teeth. This is another in that depressing line of books written by someone who's looked at life mainly through a TV set. Characters ape their on-screen representations instead of the other way around and are consequently believable only to those for whom life mimics pulp fiction. The story hops around in a vain attempt at drama and creativity. There are excellent books up for literary awards in the UK this year and some fine first novels (try Azzopardi's The Hiding Place). How White Teeth finds its way into their company escapes me.
on September 2, 2010
I am only about 80 pages into this book, but I'm seriously considering abandoning it because I'm clearly not on the same wavelength as most of the other readers.
I find the slang somewhat difficult to decipher and the swearing distracting. The sentence and chapter structure lacks rhythm and cohesiveness. The plot is offbeat and wandering, the relationships are shallow and glib, and the imagery is fairly bland. I haven't smiled once so far, or been enlightened in any manner. It's really starting to concern me that I'm missing something that is supposed to be there. Perhaps I am more impatient than others, or unforgiving. The only thing I found remotely entertaining was the consistency with which Archie finished the bicycling, the chance misrecording of his race placement, and the quirky unexpected letters from his competitor. But I looked in the table of contents and there is no chapter about Horst, which is a pity.
on August 31, 2001
With all the great reviews and promise of an exciting new voice, I purchased the book to read on vacation. It took an enormous amount of effort to finish it. Yes, her mastery of several types of ethnic dialog is to be applauded but the story was painfully long and hard to read for something that didn't seem to say anything. She jumps from past to present from one paragraph to the next which confused me... it took me the next 3 paragraphs to figure out that she had jumped into a story from the past. And the end of the story was not indicative of the rest of the book. She spends 448 pages in excruciating detail about mindless stuff only to abruptly end the story in the last 2 paragraphs of the book - almost like she actually got tired of the story too.
I've read some of her other writings and was impressed - which made this book a real let-down.