White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Today I finally finished another novel, one that kept creeping up my radar last year, White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. Let’s see, the story basically follows two families in several generations, and another family that halfway through the novel ends up being as involved as the first two. The story starts off with Archie, a middle-age man recently out of a divorce – he has no one but his friend, Samad. The two of them set off the story and we follow the men as they meet their wives, Clara and Alsana respectively, as they have kids and as they reminiscent on the past and their forefathers. Among the kids we have Archie and Clara’s daughter – Irie, and Samad and Alsana’s twin boys – Millat and Magid.

All sorts of things happen over the course of this 460 pages long book. A lot of things, and yet also not that much really happens. Let me clarify, many things happen – Magid being sent away, fights and disputes between family members, Millat going off the rails, meeting new people, Samad having an affair, etc etc. But there’s not really one cohesive plot, no major twist waiting to happen. Many things happen but no really decisive moment ever comes. As I was reading this book, I thought this was going to be a plot driven book or at least that there would be a real climax at the end – it felt like the entire book was build-up for a big revelation. But in this case there really isn’t one, in my opinion.

Having now finished it, I can see it’s more a character study and its strength lies in the generational way the story progresses, from the past to the future. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a book (at least none come to mind) were we get to follow a family through so many generations, it definitely makes for an interesting perspective. It’s not exactly linear, starting from the past and only going forward, but jumping back and forth in time albeit having a general past to present direction.

I could definitely appreciate the generation aspect of it, and even some of the character development was interesting. But that’s where my positivity ends. To sum up my feelings in one sentence, it was boring. Dull, dull, damn boring! Personally I didn’t like any of the characters – not always a problem but in this case it just made me less interested in their lives. I just didn’t care what happened to them, what they were experiencing or did. I will admit that during the first 200 pages I was mildly interested in where things were going, and was ready to give the characters a chance to impress me, but after that I was pretty much so done with all of them. In the end I think my favorite scenes where when Irie goes to the hair salon (a scene that lasts for a few pages maybe at best) and Millat’s inner dialogue about gangster movies (shorter even than the previous mentioned). I was pushing myself to keep reading, to finish it, since I had already invested so many pages (and time) into it – sometimes I really had to push. The last 40 pages were a steep hill. Usually books tend to really take off in the last 50-100 pages but in this case, not so much.

I really feel like the book was written in a way that gives you the sense that there is going to be this dramatic climax, and there is a thing that happens in the end that could’ve been that twist – but it just doesn’t happen. Except for the characters that I at best felt midly amused by (yes, there were a few times here and there where I was wondering – hmm, what are you gonna do next? but they were way too few and far between) and the lack of point, there was the “philosophical” ramblings. Time and time again there would be long passages of talk about historical events, or philosophy, or just something that probably had something to do with the story but which added nothing (in my opinion) to the understanding of anything/anyone, added absolutely nothing in entertainment (I was bored to tears, skimreadskimreadskimread). Or the character’s would go on rants, similarly boring and useless.

I mean, I personally don’t think this is great writing – it’s not shit but it’s not in my opinion anything spectacular. Mostly though I was just so bored I was so happy when I finished it.

This review turned out to be me ranting off how bored I was, sorry about that. I wouldn’t recommend it, but then again it’s just one person’s opinion. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. Hopefully the next book I read will suit my fancy better.

Until next time, happy reading!


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