I loved Zadie’s first book, White Teeth, which she wrote when she was only 23 years old. I may be wrong but I feel that with this book Smith was trying to distance herself from her 23 year old self.
This book introduces us to several residents of the northwest of London. There’s Leah who isn’t content with her life despite her loving husband who desperately wants to start a family with her. There’s Felix, a recovering addict who decides he’s off the drugs for good and ready to embark on an adult relationship. And there’s Natalie, nee Keisha, who is a married lawyer with two kids, trying to distance herself from her Caribbean heritage.The characters in this book,there are many, are flawed and unhappy. There are some tragic scenes, some interesting ones, some thought-provoking.
What I liked about the book is how Smith portrays the new England, the new London in particular. This is a London which is very culturally diverse, where Churches, mosques, synagogues are in close proximity; where you can easily find African markets and so on. There is no longer a homogeneous image of what it means to be English/a Londoner.
Smith incorporates the linguistics of London into her book. I think it may be hard for people who aren’t familiar with British slang to understand parts of the dialogue, I don’t know. It made me curious about whether the book would do slightly better in the UK than it would do in North America and elsewhere.
I’m not sure if the fragmentary structure of this book really worked in Smith’s favour, although I found myself warming up to it as the book went on. Still, I think the stream of consciousness style that was present in much of the book was a bit much.
It’s a grim book; drugs, alcohol, poverty, council housing. Everything seems so stagnant.
I much preferred White Teeth.