Does it sometimes occur that you get invited to a party that you really don’t want to go to because you don’t know anybody there but your partner entreats you to make an effort and you discover that the hosts don’t speak much English and it’s in a shabby part of town and it’s promising to be a long and boring affair? But you go anyway, dragging your feet and mumbling under your breath because he insists on being punctual when you know nobody will arrive before the appointed hour. But in the end, you really had a good time and happy that you went and even stayed well after the party was supposed to be over?

This was the case with Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” I had never heard of this writer and this was the first novel she wrote when she was in her early 20’s. As first novels go, this one is a tour de force — ambitious, far-encompassing, heartfelt, and full of humor. Smith takes two guys who have nothing in common with each other and places them in a drab north London suburb and breathes life into them, giving them ancestors, wives, children, and such trials and tribulations that as readers you can’t but feel sympathy for them. Smith’s narrative travels from India to Jamaica to Pakistan to London and back again, in witty English as well as dubitable dialects, like someone who can both tell jokes and mime.

But then something curious happens. You realize that a lot of time has gone by but the event is slow to get off the ground. So what if these people are really nice and funny and entertaining but the clock is ticking along and there is no end in sight? Smith’s book is a whopping 550 pages printed in size two font, and after page 246 you’re beginning to feel party fatigue as when you’re listening to one person speak for too long and laugh too loud while wondering where this is all headed.

Yet you’re curious so you hang around, like boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the night, hoping that in the end there will finally be a point to this novel and that you will have had a grand time after all.

There is, and you will — but be armed with lots of humor and patience.

White Teeth
by Zadie Smith
550 pages


Following the acclaims of “The Remains of the Day” which earned the Booker Prize in 1989, Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (also shortlisted for the Booker in 2005) held great promise.

Perhaps it was naiveté, or blind trust from being in the hands of an accomplished author, but it never occurred to me until after 100 pages that this books skirts science-fiction, a genre for which I still have to acquire a taste. The story, narrated by a young woman reminiscing about her childhood and early life within the confines of a contemporary English boarding school, tells of the bonds of friendship with her classmates as they grow up without knowing the fate reserved for them in the outside world. In a flat, monotonous tone and without a trace of humor, wit, or irony, “Kathy” relates mundane events in her daily life so banal that it makes us wonder where the real interest of her story lies. “As I say,” and “I’ll come to that in a moment,” or “as I later understood” were phrases often repeated to prod the reader to turn the page. Nevertheless, I pushed on to the end to discover the ultimate tragic destiny of these young adults.

To say more at this point would spoil the story. Once I grasped the delusion though, the book falls apart on several levels. A good number of themes surface — ethics, morality, medical pioneering, love and friendship — but remain inadequately addressed and explained. The novel unfortunately ends in the same vacuum in which it began.

About Kazuo Ishiguro: author of six novels, A Pale View of Hills (1982, Winifred Holtby Prize), An Artist of the Floating World (1986, Whitbread Book of the Year Award, Primio Scanno, shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Remains of the Day (1989, winner of the Booker Prize), The Unconsoled (1995, winner of the Cheltenham Prize), When We Were Orphans (2000, shortlisted for the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go (2005, shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize), and a book of stories, Nocturnes (2009). He received an OBE for Services to Literature in 1995, and the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1998.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
304 pages

Who ever said that fat people don’t have sexy imaginations?

Plump, virginal Janice reluctantly writes romances in the hope of earning enough money to find the man she loved and lost 20 years ago, but her agent is hiding her healthy financial position. So when a new publisher wants Janice’s help with a very marketable product, it is time for her to get sexy.