White Teeth by Zadie Smith | Book Review

As you’ll already know if you’ve read my August Wrap Up, I didn’t have a very good reading month in August. In fact, I only finished one book (I know, I’m ashamed). So, today, I’m going to review that one book for you.

Despite the fact that it was only one book, I am so pleased that I was finally able to add White Teeth to my read shelf. It’s a real chunk of a book, so there’s a lot I could cover in this review, but I’m going to try and keep it as brief as I possibly can for you.

I feel like the first thing I have to address is the length… it’s long. However, it doesn’t feel super long. Since we’re following 3 different generations, we’re always hearing from someone new and seeing our characters in different situations, so it never felt like it was dragging – does that make sense? I’d recommend reading a chapter by chapter summary when you’re finished – to make sure you actually remember the first few chapters, so much has happened by the time you get there!

I kind of touched on this in the previous point, but it’s a very complex novel (to say the very least). Not only in its intent, but also in its detailed use of symbolism and metaphor – even the title can be interpreted so many different ways, but I won’t get into that here. I feel like I could really easily write a dissertation on this use of symbolism in this novel if I really wanted to. As an English student, you can imagine how much I enjoyed dissecting this as I read.

The area that really let it down for me was the exorbitant amount of swearing in this novel. I’ll grant you, sometimes it was used to build character (which I understand), but often it just felt excessive. It broke up the sense of sentences and left a really bad taste in my mouth, meaning I didn’t get to enjoy the subtleties of the narrative nearly as much. It might not be a deal breaker for everyone, but it’s something to consider – it’s a long book if you’re sensitive to it, it starts to ride on you after a while.

However, let’s go back to the positives for a moment, other than the swearing, the characters were treated really well, with most of the characters progressing through a strong character arc. Despite the third person narrative, you can really feel the characters in the sections where they’re the main protagonist – it was really quite impressive.

Speaking of the narrator, I did find that this narration possessed a really nice balance between moving along with the plot and showing some of Smith’s trademark satirical, cynical humor. I really enjoyed the occasional laugh in this story, I think that was another huge influence on the pages passing so quickly.

Overall, I gave this novel 3/5 stars – it was good, it was interesting, it was very readable. However, it’s not going to be my new favourite book by any means. In fact, the excessive swearing lost it a lot of brownie points in my eyes, that just couldn’t be made up for by clever symbolism. I don’t like reading a book that makes me feel icky, and this one did on a lot of occasions.

What did you guys think? Are you a Zadie Smith fan, or have you just never quite worked up the courage to crack open one of her books open? Let me know in the comments below!

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