Review: “White teeth”, by Zadie Smith
“Joyce looked confused. ‘Yes, originally.’
“’Whitechapel,’ said Millat, pulling out a cigarette. “Via the Royal London Hospital and the 207 bus.”
Joyce adopts the capricious Millat as his favorite cause, inviting him to live with Chalfen and paying for his analysis; she is too complacent to notice that her eldest son, Joshua, is an animal rights renegade who plots violent retaliation against his pioneer father. This highlights one of the book’s most salient conflicts – the need to belong versus renouncing heritage – which Smith attempts to explain in a grand finale, a chance meeting of parents and children at the FutureMouse exhibit in Marcus on New Years Eve 1992. By this point the novel wasted some of the goodwill it has accumulated with so much style, and one would have liked a firmer editorial hand to divert it from its too much braiding. eager to intrigue. (A flashback to the mystery of Archie’s wartime character test is both straightforward and slightly ridiculous.) The focus becomes blurry and the until then confident writing suddenly feels labored and labored. disjointed.
But perhaps this overshoot is a natural consequence of Smith’s ambition. “White Teeth” is so different from the genre of comedy novel currently in vogue among young British women – aspiring city girl Bridget Jones – that her very willingness to look beyond the stock of boyfriends and weight issues is a mark of distinction. Smith’s real talent does not emerge only in his voice but in his ear, which allows him to inhabit characters of different generations, races and mentalities. Whether it’s her notation of Archie’s blokish colloquialisms, Clara’s Anglo-Jamaican patois, the jokes of two grumpy old Jamaicans or second-generation Bengali teenagers, the mixed-race texture of metropolitan life stands out. clearly from the page. There is more than virtuosity at work here. Smith loves her characters, and although she is attentive to their flaws and blind spots, her generosity to them never falters.
This is why “White Teeth”, despite all its tensions, is a particularly sunny novel. Its overcrowding, its tangle of voices and competing points of view, testify to a society struggling for accommodation, tolerance, perhaps even fraternity, and a time when interbreeding is no longer the exception but the norm: “It’s only so late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung near the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O’Rourke bouncing a ball basketball and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last name on a direct collision course. There are reasons, so late, to be gay, and this eloquent and witty book is not the least. -Anthony Quinn