Wednesday, 20 February 2002

White teeth

Listening to:

Schubert, string quintet in C, D956.

Just read:

Zadie Smith, White teeth.

This is a clever, intelligent, and very amusing novel. It tells the story of two families living in North London, and is superficially a “family epic”. However, instead of deeply meaningful development, we’re instead given an opportunity to laugh at cleverly plotted scenes, and also at characters who are all basically stereotypes or too extreme to be entirely believable. Done poorly this could have just been offensive and off-putting, but the stereotypes were all sympathetically drawn, and the extreme characters make for greater impact on the reader’s imagination. I didn’t derive much emotional attachment to any of them, but this wasn’t the point of the novel.

It’s a topical novel, managing to address issues of genetic engineering, immigration and Islamic fundamentalism. Most of these issues are touched reasonably lightly, which I felt appropriate. It was only when the touch was occasionally heavier that I felt White teeth was being slightly less than very successful.

To read next:

Yes, I have finally got my reviewing back-log over. My next book is Peter Whitfield's Mapping the world: a history of exploration.