I adored Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time (2016), when I read it back in January, though Zadie fans warned me it was her worst, that I should start with something well-loved like her debut, White Teeth. Here I am, just a few short months later, having finished White Teeth: and I can honestly say I prefer Swing Time.
From the back cover:
One of the most talked-about fictional debuts of recent years, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing with- among many other things- friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, 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.
For me, White Teeth was a bit of a struggle to get through. I almost thought I was in a reading slump, because I never felt motivated to sit down and pick it up. My experience reading White Teeth was a big disappointment, especially after how much I loved Swing Time. Occasionally, however, when I did actually pick it up, I liked what I read. Each chapter is written during a different time period, from varying perspectives across a small cast of characters. In that sense, White Teeth felt like a loosely-collected short story anthology, in which one must read all twenty pieces in order to put the puzzle together into a novel. Looking at White Teeth like this, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get along with most of the novel: I really only appreciated Irie’s five stories, and maybe one or two of Samad’s and Archie’s. You wouldn’t say you love a short story collection after liking less than half of the stories; following this logic, I can’t say that I love White Teeth.
“Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”
-Zadie Smith, White Teeth
As with Swing Time, and again with White Teeth, I admire the way that Smith carefully constructs her sentences so that every word has its place on the page, and I appreciate what she has to say about race and religion, but unfortunately I just didn’t agree with White Teeth. I guess I’ll have to be in the minority on this one.
Find this book on Goodreads.