White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This Début novel had critics trying to make comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the book is original and fluently entertaining.
Two friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, are soldier veterans of World War II. Archie’s second marriage to Clara Bowden, Jamaican half his age who has problems with her teeth, gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name. Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons who confuse the parents no end. This is a mixture of cultural information and a very colourful look atBritain and her diversity.
This book made the headlines at the time of its release apparently because of the six figure advance paid to the writer. The story begins in 1975 with the attempted suicide of Archie Jones. This is not a tragic beginning but a very amusing introduction to the characters. Basically two men who fought in the war meet up again, remain friends and both get married and have children. Anyone who remembers the seventies will be able to relate to the people and events in this book with pleasant nostalgia. The characters are a bit over the top and the story becomes so complicated with many threads that there is a feeling it will never tie into a good ending. However the writer does manage to pull it off, if a little stretching of the imagination is allowed.
This is a multicultural comic hot pot with gems of illustration like; O’Connell’s pool room, an Irish poolroom run by Arabs with no pool tables. I think my favourite character was Hortense, Clara’s mother, a crazy Jamaican Jehovah who is permanently waiting for the end of the world. The writer also describes children with names like Quang O’Rourke or Irie Jones as having first and last names on a direct collision course, excellent writing.
On a not so positive note the prose is full of complex words and phrases that are not needed for the understanding of the book and makes some of the reading of it clumsy and heave going. The plot does not really become apparent till the second half of the book and 448 pages is a long paperback. However it did make me laugh out loud at times and is an excellent view ofLondon’s very own brand of multiculturalism.