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#1 - White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

My first book of 2007! I had thought it would be the final book of 2006, but I didn't quite get through it in time.

I enjoyed reading this book, which is set (mostly) in Britain in the late 20th century. It follows two fairly dysfunctional families - the Joneses, and the Iqbals - while exploring issues of race and religion and what I guess we'd call the "generation gap." Smith's prose is wonderful - interesting and fresh, not too heavy on slang, but with enough contemporary and cultural "jargon" to bring a healthy dose of atmosphere. I thought the language fit well with her subject matter: the blending (or, more often than not, clash) of cultures.

I'm going to cut the rest of this, since it's heavy on SPOILERS, so if you like to avoid things like that, don't read on.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the way the author wove several individual stories into the whole, and brought them all together again at the end. This, however, is where she fell flat. I'd be raving about this book if it had only had a proper ending. Instead, the author created so many great characters, and a lot of potential for big action, and then . . . the book ended with a small whimper, instead of a satisfying, powerful BANG. (I’m put in mind of Stephen King, and not in a good way). I will admit, though, that I was glad she didn’t do some of the things I was afraid she would do (namely, turning the ending into a blood bath and killing characters that I would have been sad to see die). Still, the big revelation at the ending, while interesting, just wasn't enough, IMO. In reading other reviews at All Consuming, I discovered that I'm not the only one to feel this way, either, and it sounds as though the author herself now realizes that she probably should have ended things a bit differently. This bodes well for her subsequent works. I've not yet read any of them, but will if the opportunity arises. This one was mostly fantastic, up until the last four or five pages.

As for specifics, I especially loved Irie, and found her speech on the bus to be marvelous (and relevant). I’d guessed Archie’s secret (I’m fairly certain we’re supposed to have guessed), but I was surprised (and pleasantly so) when the focus of this secret turned up when he did. There were several phrases and ideas that really struck me – one in particular about how we always believe ourselves to be worth loving, and the comment that perhaps this isn’t really a reasonable thing; perhaps people who don’t return our love aren’t “damaged” as we like to believe they are. An interesting thought. There were many others in this book, too. (Although most of them have been lost from my memory, since it took me several weeks to read this book, what with the intervention of the holidays; there was one I remembered last night, but now it's left me again. If I remember, I'll edit this entry). I found the book relevant and thought-provoking. Another thing I appreciated is that I managed to be annoyed (even disgusted) with the behavior of most (all?) of the characters at one point or another, and yet, I still managed to like them, in spite of their bad behavior.

On the whole, a meaty, well-written book. I will read others by this author. Hopefully she’ll have learned her lesson, and her new works actually have a proper denouement. 8/10

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catlily
Jan. 4th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
I loved it too - IMO, her best book by far - I couldn't get through The Autograph Man, and have yet to finish On Beauty.

If you liked the multiracial issues which are explored in the book, you'd probably like the Andrea Levy books as well, particularly Small Island. I recommend all of her books if you haven't already come across them.
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