Like the title explains, this is a review of the book “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith after a fifteen minute reading. Sometimes the first fifteen minutes of reading a book is enough to reveal whether or not the purchase was a mistake. I’ll choose various books at random and present first impressions in a hopefully useful way. Maybe my first impression will help guide your purchase and save you from making some possibly bad choices. (Note: Do Not Read “Fifty Shades of Grey” if you value well-written novels and carefully developed plots. Just don’t.)
The back cover of this novel describes the story as “dealing with—among other things—friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, and the tricky ways the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous, mist-read of a book.” The point of this review is to see if, within the first fifteen minutes of reading this book, it lives up to this summary. This is the first novel by Zadie Smith and has launched her with apparent effortlessness into the inner circle of up-and-coming writers. Without actually reading anything by Smith, I had heard of “White Teeth” and its various accolades on multiple occasions.
Before even beginning the story, we get a slight introduction to the theme of time in the phrase “What is past is prologue”, dropped just before the acknowledgments and table of contents. So, right off the bat, we know that time and the ripple effect it creates are going to play a major role. The table of contents itself is an intriguing one, as it divides the story up by names, which are followed by a series of dates. This creates a sense of mystery, as I immediately begin to wonder what these dates and names mean. I do hope this will get addressed with caution because there’s nothing more annoying than having a lot of characters with great potential for development, but little time actually dedicated to them. What’s the point of introducing us to one-eyed uncle Claude, who paints political murals and loves to write Yelp reviews for brunch restaurants, if we never learned how he lost the eye or see him eating brunch?
We begin with Archie, whose chapter title alone is worthy of a movie (The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones). We are led to understand that he seems pretty comfortable with his decision to commit suicide and is intent on finding the perfect location. My time limit allowed me to read the next seven pages and I’m happy to report that this book will be something I look forward to continuing until the end. Smith manages to create various character profiles to fill in and color the background of Archie’s life without taking the focus away from this suicidal man. We get glimpses of Archie’s present and past, including snippets of his marriage and the events that led to what seems to be a life changing/saving moment.
In these few pages, we get a handful of memorable lines. The feeling I got from this introductory reading can be summed up with a line from page four: “While he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger moth’s diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff the Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie.”
It’s safe to say that Smith isn’t afraid to use humor and uncensored language to color her prose, making for an entertaining first look. I look forward to a follow up analysis of the rest of the book and cross my fingers that my initial spark of interest is not snuffed out by an over-hyped novel.
Until next time, I’ll keep reading and I hope you will to.