Top critical review
21 people found this helpful
Very funny, very british and warm - but didn't ever feel emotionally invested in characters
on 16 May 2017
White Teeth is an expansive and detailed attempt to describe the social chaos that blossoms at the bridging of generational, national and cultural mindsets.
The book does many things well. Smith has an ear for dialogue and accent, and she finesses the observational humour. Her cast of characters is varied and nearly every one of them comes off as a fully flesh and blood human being and correct representation of cultural mindsets. Real Indian, Jamaican and Bangladeshi diaspora are recreated here - not the imagined Indian, Jamaican and Bangladeshi diaspora of white writers too reluctant to put in the requisite amount of research for getting the most inconsequential details right.
However, I struggle to genuinely care about the fate of most of these characters. Smith, herself, shows detached superiority for every character except the one that she is blatantly based upon. She over defines every other character within the novel to the extent that their actions are predictable. Smith, displays contempt for each character’s worldview, but is refrains from articulating her own, which is simply the absence of adherence to any such worldview. It is an effective writing technique, but grows tiresome in such an expansive novel.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It neared greatness in many ways – witty and funny dialogue, quirky characters, rich and creative family histories. However, holistically the book fell far short of greatness. The plot was artificial, the book is rife with linguistic anachronisms and above all I couldn’t empathise with the characters.
However, the would-be 2-star is edged to a 3-star simply because the book is genuinely very funny. I haven’t come across many other funny female authors of contemporary literary fiction - there is almost a good joke on every page of the 500+ page novel, the satire is perfected and there is a real human warmth that exudes from the novel.
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