Hm, weeks have passed again since I last updated this blog. So, time for another quick update…

A few weeks back I decided to read Zadie Smith’s much acclaimed White Teeth. This was Zadie Smith’s first novel and was published when she was only 24 years old. Having read some of the hype surrounding the book previously and then having read the pages of praise inside the front cover, I was looking forward to something very literary, very contemporary and very wonderfully clever.

So what did I find?

Well, a bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest.

Yes, it is a sprawling, colourful, postmodern tale packed with a bright assortment of characters. Yes, it explores themes of heritage, multiculturalism, the differences between generations, cultural stereotypes, and the state of modern Britain. Yes, it is well written in parts. And yes, it made me smile on occasions.

(Can you feel a “but” coming…?) But, I have to say I was not blown away by this book.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is clearly a talented writer and whilst some sections were very intelligently written and well crafted (for example, I thought the way the various strands come together at the end of the book was very well done),  I still found other sections of the narrative pretty uninspiring to be honest.

Another issue I struggled with throughout the novel was the fact that I simply didn’t care much for any of the characters. Now maybe this just highlights some failing of sympathy on my part, but try as I might to engage with the different characters, they all seemed to be portrayed as small-minded, selfish and often fairly ridiculous, and there was little in the narrative that elicited in me much interest or sympathy for any of them.

The novel also seemed to offer conflicting messages on several of the key themes. Now maybe this is all part of a clever post-modern ploy to refuse to offer any neat, simple synthesis of complex issues, in order to challenge the reader in his thinking. However, it felt at times more like sloppy editing, to be honest. Here are a couple of quotations from the end of the book, as an example of the divergent views expressed:

In a vision, Irie has seen a time, a time not far from now, when roots won’t matter any more because they can’t because they mustn’t because they’re too long and they’re too tortuous and they’re just buried too damn deep. She looks forward to it.

Likewise, the brothers will race towards the future only to find they more and more eloquently express their past, that place where they have just been. Because this is the other thing about immigrants (‘fugees, émigrés, travellers): they cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lost your shadow.

I’ve perhaps been a little harsh in my review, as this is not a bad book by any means; it just didn’t meet my expectations.  I would cerainly still be interested in trying another of Zadie Smith’s books in the future.

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