January 18, 2007

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

White Teeth

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, which seemed as generous and humane as I expected from its reviews, and from the comments of other readers I had talked to about it. On the other hand, though I have heard the term 'Dickensian' applied to it--perhaps because of its length, and the diversity and eccentricity of its cast of characters--White Teeth struck me as more worthy of the 'loose baggy monster' epithet than such genuine Dickensian candidates as Bleak House or Little Dorrit. Where was the unifying pattern, whether of plot, imagery, or idea? Compare the climactic (?) shooting incident near the end of White Teeth with Krook's spontaneous combustion in Bleak House, for example. While the former was high in drama and yet somehow comic, and while it brought elements of the story around to a kind of neat circularity, the latter (despite being entirely outrageous in realist terms, despite Dickens's famous defense of it) is much more richly emblematic of the social and moral crises of its novel. Though I would not have expected to say quite this about Dickens, his is by far the more compelling moment aesthetically as well as intellectually.

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