There isn’t much of a plot here, the book being swept along by a series of sometimes hilarious, oft-times clever,...

WHITE TEETH

An impressively witty satirical first novel, London-set, chronicling the experiences of two eccentric multiracial families during the last half of the 20th century.

When Archie Jones’s suicide attempt on New Year’s Day 1975 is stymied by a finicky butcher (who frowns upon such things taking place in a car parked illegally in front of his establishment, especially when he’s awaiting an early morning delivery), his life is changed forever. Lamenting the break up of his marriage, the distraught and disoriented Archie—a middle-aged Brit who fancies himself in the direct-mail business but actually spends his life folding papers—then wanders into an end-of-the-world party where he meets his next wife. Jamaican Clara Bowden is 19 to Archie’s 47, at six feet tall she towers over him, and she’s missing all her upper teeth, the result of a motorcycle mishap. Nonetheless, six weeks later the mismatched pair are married and living near Archie’s WWII buddy Samad Iqbal, a Bengali Muslim. And so begins Smith’s frenetic, riotous, unruly tale, which hops, skips, and jumps from one end of the century to the other while following the Jones and Iqbal broods. Archie and Clara have a daughter, Irie, whose name translates into ``no problem'' (although she has plenty of them); Samad, who is head waiter at an Indian restaurant, has twin sons, Millat and Magid. When they’re nine, their father separates the boys, sending Magid back to Bangladesh to be raised the old-fashioned way, far from the corruption of postwar London, filled with its mods and rockers and hippies and Englishmen and other bad influences—including Samad himself, who has been lusting after his twins’ schoolteacher.

There isn’t much of a plot here, the book being swept along by a series of sometimes hilarious, oft-times clever, occasionally tedious riffs on everything from race relations through eugenics and on to religion, but 25-year-old Smith is a marvelously talented writer with a wonderful ear for dialogue.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50185-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more