White Teeth was published in 2000, to immense critical acclaim. It is Zadie Smith’s debut novel, and she was in her mid-twenties when it was first published.
The book is divided into four sections, each focussing on a different character. The first two sections are devoted to Archie and Samad who met in the Second World War and who are in their late 40s when the book opens. The later sections follow the lives of their children. Each section is set at a different point in time, and so you see how the characters change over time and what happens in their lives.
The book has an incredibly powerful opening, and sees Archie sat in a fume-filled vehicle on New Year’s Day. Based upon the opening two pages, my initial thought was ‘Wow – this is going to be excellent’.
Sadly, it didn’t live up to this early promise, nor the hype that still surrounds the novel today. I didn’t care about the characters, who were quirky but underdeveloped in some cases, and so it was difficult to feel engaged in the novel and to keep reading.
There are good points – I like Smith’s writing style. It is unique and clever without being pompous, and the dialogue was often amusing.
But it was tedious, and I felt like giving up at several points. I can’t point to any one thing that was wrong with it – it just didn’t interest me. A case of ‘it’s not you, it’ me’ perhaps.
If this was the first book by Smith I’d read, I doubt I’d pick up another one. But, having read On Beauty, which I did enjoy, I may try another one at some point in the future. Maybe.