Number of pages: 462
Zadie Smith's first novel revolves around three families living in the same street and their lives throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. It sets the typical style that I have seen in her other novels, mostly that it shows London as a multicultural place, just as it is in real life, so race is involved heavily.
Reading this again, I found myself gripped after the first two chapters, both of which lead up to the first meeting of Archie Jones and his Jamaican wife, Clara (the first chapter is from Archie's point of view, and the second is from Clara's). The story also introduces us to Archie's habit of making decisions based on the flip of a coin, which seems forgotten about, but is picked up on later on.
I found the characters engaging, and noticed on this second read that the "white teeth" of the title are used as an extended metaphor, representing (evidently) the characters in the book. There are a few flashback chapters that set apart how the families' histories intertwine with each other, referred to as their "root canals"; one family is compared to as "Canines: the ripping teeth" by a chapter title.
At times the book was hard to read, mostly because there were some very long paragraphs, but one of the most gripping chapters involved the most entertaining family, the Iqbals. The father of the family, Sahmad, who is a Muslim from Bangladesh (and gets angry if people think he's Indian), is intolerent of all Western influences and wants Harvest Festival abolished. Later on, he tears down all his son's posters that involve Western bands and burns them along with his CDs and trainers. It was also an episode that stuck out for me when I watched a TV serialisation of the book, before reading it.
There didn't feel like there was a specific plot thread that ran through the story, except that it was about three families who got involved in each others' lives, but it was enjoyable all the same, culminating in a storyline that gradually develops about half way in, involving a character genetically engineering a mouse and causing uproar by religious people and animal rights groups.
I liked the way that Zadie Smith's syle contained a good mixture of drama and comedy, with humour found even in tragic moments. This is definitely worth reading.
Next book: God's Smuggler (Brother Andrew, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill)