Playing hostess last week offered me a surprising amount of time to catch up on my reading, so I managed to polish off Zadie Smith's White Teeth, a selection from my altered TIME Top 100 Novels list.
The scope of White Teeth is impressive. Smith traces the stories of Archie Jones, Samar Iqbal, and their respective families from Jones and Iqbal's service during World War II to their children's chaotic and tumultuous teenage years. Smith handles it all deftly, sketching particular moments with such detail and insight that no further history is needed. Multiple characters and story arcs are expertly woven together, culminating in the book's madcap WonderMouse debut climax.
Other readers have commented that the characters lacked depth or relatability—that they were amusing and funny, but didn't really inspire empathy or an investment in their success. I don't think this is the case, but I think the ultimately humorous, light-hearted tone of Smith's writing can trick you into thinking that White Teeth isn't a "serious" novel. What was a letdown for me was the end; it lacked a lot of really good closure. I don't want to go into much detail since it's a fairly spoilable one. It was just more open-ended than I was expecting.