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On Beauty: A Novel Paperback – August 29, 2006
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Howard Belsey is a middle-class white liberal Englishman teaching abroad at Wellington, a thinly disguised version of one of the Ivies. He is a Rembrandt scholar who can't finish his book and a recent adulterer whose marriage is now on the slippery slope to disaster. His wife, Kiki, a black Floridian, is a warm, generous, competent wife, mother, and medical worker. Their children are Jerome, disgusted by his father's behavior, Zora, Wellington sophomore firebrand feminist and Levi, eager to be taken for a "homey," complete with baggy pants, hoodies and the ever-present iPod. This family has no secrets--at least not for long. They talk about everything, appropriate to the occasion or not. And, there is plenty to talk about.
The other half of the story is that of the Kipps family: Monty, stiff, wealthy ultra-conservative vocal Christian and Rembrandt scholar, whose book has been published. His wife Carlene is always slightly out of focus, and that's the way she wants it. She wafts over all proceedings, never really connecting with anyone. That seems to be endemic in the Kipps household. Son Michael is a bit of a Monty clone and daughter Victoria is not at all what Daddy thinks she is. Indeed, Forster's advice, "Only connect," is lost on this group.
The two academics have long been rivals, detesting each other's politics and disagreeing about Rembrandt. They are thrown into further conflict when Jerome leaves Wellington to get away from the discovery of his father's affair, lands on the Kipps' doorstep, falls for Victoria and mistakes what he has going with her for love. Howard makes it worse by trying to fix it. Then, Kipps is granted a visiting professorship at Wellington and the whole family arrives in Massachusetts.
From this raw material, Smith has fashioned a superb book, her best to date. She has interwoven class, race, and gender and taken everyone prisoner. Her even-handed renditions of liberal and/or conservative mouthings are insightful, often hilarious, and damning to all. She has a great time exposing everyone's clay feet. This author is a young woman cynical beyond her years, and we are all richer for it. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
A sabbatical in New England does not make Smith an authority able to accurately critique American culture, especially black-American culture.
Ultimately, this is a mean book with mean characters that leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. I would have given it one star only that Zadie Smith is a brilliant writer. I would say to her "channel your anger, give us believable characters that we can care about". Zadie Smith needs to grow up.
While she acknowledges up front that it is written as an hommage to E.M. Forster- the storyline is needlessly convoluted in order to mirror the plot of "Howard's End". What's worse are the underdeveloped, frustratingly shallow and across the board uninteresting characters- at the end of the book the reader doesn't particularly care what happens to any of them. I gather the intent was to examine personal relationships through the lens of larger scale issues of class, race, gender and aesthetic- but to say that she falls short is a gross understatement. It just feels so contrived- the dialogue- the meandering plot- the lifeless characters- all of it. This is definitely not a novel that will transport you into the story. It was a complete waste of time to read (I am kicking myself for buying it in hardback)-and such a let-down after having read Ms. Smith's other work.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This novel is Zadie Smith's homage to 'Howards End' by E.M. Forster as it plot loosely parallels Forster's masterpiece, dealing with the issues of class, appearance and, in Smith's... Read morePublished 1 day ago by ana ovejero
Beautifully written and smart. Touching on profound societal issues and the struggle of every day in a family, a marriage. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Meg
I hate to post a review of a book I have not finished, but I will make an exception here. I was enchanted with "White Teeth," so I decided to purchase this novel. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Brittany Whyte
I quickly fell in love with the characters in this book. They were multifaceted, likable people, but not perfect (like real humans). The situations seemed real. Read morePublished 4 months ago by q
One of the best books I have ever read. It sucks you in and makes you feel a range of emotions. I recommend this book to everyone interested in Zadie Smith's writing, and have... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Really fun and interesting book - well written. The end slowed down a bit for me, and the relationship between Howard and Victoria wasn't as believable as the rest of the book. Read morePublished 6 months ago by A. Mahon