The Ending

{Finished with White Teeth}

Debby: So clearly, we need to talk about the conclusion to the book.

Tim: That and the last hundred pages or so. Or maybe that’s another topic altogether. But yes, it merits some discussion.

Debby: Well, I feel like the last hundred pages felt like an escalation to this “grand climax”. I mean, they started talking about the New Years Eve event a number of chapters before it finally occurred. As I was reading, I thought it was weird that there was so much build-up, yet so few pages left! I couldn’t help but wonder when it would all happen. And it did happen- so there’s that. The end was quite dramatic, just not in the way I had foreseen. Did you find it satisfying?

Tim: So here’s why I brought up the last hundred pages. We’ve talked a lot about how the plot of White Teeth has seemed to amble along, progressing in no particular direction and luxuriating in its characters. And yet the book has still been immensely entertaining. Or it was, until about the last 70-100 pages of the book, which is when the tedium finally set in for me. And then paradoxically, with maybe 50 pages left is where the only really driving plot of the whole book sets in, and it’s interesting, but at that point I was kind of done. So I guess I like the ending ok, I think it fits with the rest of the book, particularly in a thematic sense (maybe even adding a nice little cap, thematically) but I just didn’t care that much about the events themselves, and that actively annoyed me because it was like being back in the worst parts of a literature class.

Debby: I can’t entirely disagree with you. I have no desire to go back and read this book again, like, ever. However, I did feel a sense of momentum in the last 100 pages that kept me going. I liked Irie’s personal growth through her separation from her family and her time with Hortense (and it all culminating in her sexual intercourse with both twins). I liked how we got to see Samad and Archie’s life-choices play out dramatically. And I even liked the fact that the mouse seemed to get some resolution. The only character I didn’t particularly care for was Joshua. I found his whole act unnecessary.

Tim: I’d happily go back and read the first 300 pages again, the writing is just that sharp (particularly in sections). And I did like portions of Irie’s story. But the long-running consequences of Samad and Archie’s forgotten actions, the use of Joshua as our animal-rights stand-in so we’ll care about that element of the protestors, all that is exactly what I’m talking about when I say the ending seems to fit perfectly from a thematic standpoint but I couldn’t care less from a narrative perspective. To me White Teeth is a book about paradox. There’s a quote from another book I’m in the middle of that actually seems very appropriate: “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” White Teeth is all about this recursive argument between intention and randomness. Millat and Magid are genetically the same. Intention. Yet they are different in personality. Randomness. But that difference is the result of direct actions in their upbringing. Intention. Except it had, at best, the opposite of the intended effect. Randomness. It’s a paradox that cycles back on itself again and again throughout the story, and the more happenstantial elements of the narrative like the doctor Archie was supposed to kill turning up at the end, or the prophetic letters of Ibelgaufts, only serve to highlight this.

Debby: Wow. I really like that quote. And yes, I see that fitting perfectly. Especially with Irie’s saga too, trying to decide which twin she loves and then giving up herself to both of them. An intention leading to randomness (who’s baby?). But if that’s your argument, how can you not appreciate the last hundred pages? Everything fitting into the cycle so neatly, so theatrically? I did not expect the narrative to circle back to war-time events and I found it a little much, but when put in the paradox/cycle vortex, it does fit.

Tim: Because everything stops being character, plot, etc. with its own persuasions and becomes wholly enslaved to the theme. It’s hard to explain, but the last 90 pages or so were a departure, stylistically, from what came before, and felt very much like the author saying, “And now I will give my thesis on the subject.” It felt too didactic, perhaps, especially when the welcome had already been worn out. And it’s a little weird, because (for example) Les Miserables is one of my favorite books. It’s a famously long and dramatic story, and at the end its characters start talking about the thematic ideals of the story as a whole in sort of a similar way. But to me it was earned in that case, maybe because it all stems more directly from a plot that drives the whole story. Which is not to say that the ending here was not the result of the book’s plot, such as it was, but that it seemed to be a more…authorially directed turn to the end because it comes out of a story that is so meandering for so long. So thematically, the ending is right for the thematic material of the book, but narratively and in terms of character, it feels a bit divorced from the rest of everything, artificially pulled together.

Debby: I think if this discussion continues, we’ll have worn out our welcome, too. I hear what you’re saying and I’m sorry it ruined the book for you. I found the slight change in momentum very welcoming. But… on to the next book?

Tim: I wouldn’t say it ruined the book for me. But I would’ve been happier with a shorter book. On to the next one!

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