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White Teeth

Zadie Smith

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (2 Reviews)
Book Details

Publisher : Penguin Books Ltd

Published : 2000

Copyright : Zadie Smith 2000

ISBN-10 : PB 0-14-027633-5
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-14-027633-6

Publisher's Write-Up

One of the most talked about fictional débuts of recent years, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing - among many other things - with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.

White Teeth has won awards for Best Book and Best Female Newcomer at the BT Emma Awards (Ethnic and Multicultural Media Awards), the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread Prize for a first novel in 2000, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction 2000, the WH Smith Book Award for New Talent, the Frankfurt ebook Award for Best Fiction Work and both the Commonwealth Writers First Book Award and Overall Commonwealth Writers Prize.

'A brilliantly written and hugely inspiring book - buying it should go straight to the top of your New Year's resolution list.'

Red Magazine

'Smith can write. Her novel has energy, pace, humour and fully formed characters; it is blissfully free of the introversion and self-consciousness detail that mar many first novels. Smith has stories to tell and, in the tradition of Peter Carey and Salman Rushdie, she gets on with them; the dialogue is pitch perfect, the comedy neat and underplayed.'

Daily Telegraph

'Smith perfectly captures the angst of life in an alien culture and, despite the seriousness of her theme, she can be wickedly funny. You'll laugh out loud...the entire book is speckled with lighter manifestations of cross-culture quirks...Above all, Smith has created a cast of characters that leaps off the page and keeps you engrossed to the surprising denouement.'

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Hallie Davis (090111) Rating (9/10)
Review by Claire Mapletoft (091006) Rating (7/10)

Review by Hallie Davis
Rating 9/10
White Teeth by Zadie Smith is an exploration into the human psyche, an adventure through questions about life and love that few ask out loud. The novel does the unique job of asking "Why not?" Smith creates a microcosm of nearly the entire world; almost every character represents an entirely different culture, all of whom frequently and dramatically address those whispered questions.

Throwing over 27 distinct central characters and every skeleton in every closet together in a suburb of London is not an easy task, but one Smith took on at the very beginning of her career. Since White Teeth in 2000, Smith has written two other novels, and edited one book of short stories. White Teeth remains her biggest hit, even with the opening paragraph's description of a suicide attempt and the entire book's harsh depictions of nearly every race, religion and radical.

Each character can be loved or hated, depending on the reader's feelings on a diverse list of topics and characteristics - it's about homosexuality, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, obesity, interracial marriage, arranged marriages, affairs, drinking, marijuana, Dungeons and Dragons, the ethical treatment of animals, guns, cancer, stem cell research, dentists, anarchists, everyone really, so long as their teeth started out white. Though exhausting, those are just the highlights of a cast so intense and intensely interesting that the reader can not help but to keep reading.

The book begins with an epigraph that Smith cites as coming from a Washington DC museum, though it is also from Shakespeare's The Tempest. "What is past is prologue," the quote reads, and is a representation of much of the book. The basic plot is the story of two middle aged men and the young women they marry, but the story is interwoven with the stories of their grandparents, parents and children. "For if this story is to be told, we will have to put them all back inside each other, like Russian dolls," begins the flashback to a great grandmother of one of the characters, whose own daughter plays a vital role in the story that "this" is.

Smith winds her way through flashbacks to WWII Europe, Jamaica and Bangladesh to explain characters who "cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lose your shadow;" their histories tell why they are the way they are and why they act the way they do. The outlook of the novel is somewhat grim, with a worldview that "not everybody deserves love all the time," and that one can never escape his or her past, but Smith is able to illustrate that in a way that we are so attached and in love ourselves, it becomes not just touching, but very, very funny.

While White Teeth may seem overwhelming at first, Smith makes each character from Archie to Abdul-Mickey stick out in the reader's mind, and with the knowledge of each one's past, every step taken seems unavoidable as the book picks up speed, racing towards its surprisingly action filled ending. Apart from the brilliant characters, the plot and all the subplots are masterful, tied together in the sort of way that encourages numerous rereadings to pick up on every subtlety and reference. Smith's style is unique, it is saturated in pop culture without becoming esoteric to any one generation. She quotes both "Casablanca" and "The Muppet Show," and allusions range from Hitler to Michelangelo to obscure 70's London slang.

While the novel doesn't answer any question the way the world might want it to, the book shows why we don't like the answers we come up with in modern society, and maybe those, these wrong answers, are why no one asks them out loud. Difficult to both describe and dislike, Smith's first novel leaves an impact, even after "all things are played to the finish", and "this" story is over.
Hallie Davis (9th January 2011)

Review by Claire Mapletoft
Rating 7/10
Now, upon reading this as part of an assessment, I was expecting something with a little, ah how do the French say it? Je ne sa quoi. A little spice to the recipe of tangled lives, tangled characters, and the tangled webs that we weave, and boy, do you get it here.

Many readers may find themselves wary of such a popular, mass marketed, money spinner as this, but I say, fear not fickle reader, this book would be just as enjoyable if penned by a starving artiste in a garret (Ok, enough of the Moulin Rough now), instead of a woman who now has a fairly sizey chunk of the British economy in her hands.

To enjoy this book fully, to really relish every sentence, my advice is to read with an open mind. Smith's forte in this novel is to construct racial stereotypes, develop them, build them, until there is no choice but for them to come crashing down in spectacular style, in an ending which did not leave me disappointed. She effectively leads by the hand through the streets of East London, tells you a story of immigrants, challenges, mistaken identities and love, before leaving you at the end of the novel to think, 'wow, jolly good show chaps.'

A word of warning. Smith, in my opinion, is inconsistent. She narrates sparklingly, reeling out adjectives, imagery, verbs with the ease of a practiced novelist and born storyteller. Unfortunately, she often slips into analytical, modernist mode, breaking away from the main thrust of the plot to be circumspect, and often follows what many critics would term, 'a stream of consciousness', where the writing follows no order but instead reverts into a pattern of thought, with little structure or logic. This often left me with the feeling of wishing she would hurry up and bloody well get on with it, and it does not fit with a novel which is at its best when it is simply conveying the plot.

Despite the media hype surrounding this book, upon my eyes scanning the last page, I found that I had read better novels which would fit the mould of publicity created by this, which made me feel not only a heathen, but rather stupid for not realising the creation of genius that everyone had been harping about in London for the past decade. Now I realise that that is not only true, but is a wild clutch at straws, as many people who I have spoken to about this book have offered differing claims. 'Pile of rubbish' shouted one confidante, 'brings me out in a hot flush' yelled my mother. What is a reader to do when faced with such polar opposites of opinion? Come on, even Salman Rushdie said it was an alright show. My answer is read, and read again, develop your own opinion.

If I could sum up White Teeth in one word, it would have to be flavour. The flavour of this book was astonishing, incorporating race, sexuality, adolescence, prejudice, hatred culminating in love. The characters were loveable, if not infuriating, in particular the patriarch Samad. Think of every older generation stereotype possible, and there could be no better character description. This infuriating quality is what makes the characters more than one-dimensional, without merely existing on the page. We have all met a Samad, at some point. Smith's ability lies in giving her characters more than one personality, portraying them as so vivid they could jump off the page and offer you a cuppa.

So my overall advice to you, gentle reader, would be grab a copy, savour it, ignore the prospect of reading 500 pages, and ENJOY.

Personally, I revelled in this novel, although feeling such hype could only lead to a disappointment. I finished reading, not disappointed, but somehow feeling that such hype can disguise the nature of a novel, creating preconceptions in the reader which are hard to break down. Do not let the publicity stop you, as you could miss out on what could be your new favourite author.
Claire Mapletoft (9th October 2006)

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