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On Beauty

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  48,014 Ratings  ·  3,798 Reviews
Howard Belsey is an Englishman abroad, an academic teaching in Wellington, a college town in New England. Married young, thirty years later he is struggling to revive his love for his African American wife Kiki. Meanwhile, his three teenage children— Jerome, Zora and Levi—are each seeking the passions, ideals and commitments that will guide them through their own lives.

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Paperback, 445 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published June 4th 2005)
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Christine I don't think so. I first read it about a year ago and found it enjoyable for its own sake. Still haven't read Howard's End, either, though if I do I…moreI don't think so. I first read it about a year ago and found it enjoyable for its own sake. Still haven't read Howard's End, either, though if I do I may revisit On Beauty.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aubrey
When I say I am not a people person, I mean I can find five reasons to hate someone, anyone, within ten minutes of meeting them in real life. As consequence of this and the desire to not let overwhelming anger ruin my life, I am always putting myself in the other's place, years of which have both calmed me down and sharpened my analysis to the quick. However much I initially dislike you, I will always, always, always respect you, and if you're not a complete and utter asshole and/or hypocrite wh ...more
Kinga
Nov 28, 2013 Kinga rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-women-2014
Before we talk about Zadie Smith, let’s talk about me first. Here issomething you should know – I was a serious book-worm up until I turned 16 (more or less) at which point I lost all interest in anything that wasn’t parties, boys, alcohol, drugs or sex. There, I said it. For the next five years my brain didn’t see much action (I somehow managed to finish high school and got accepted into the University of Warsaw but generally I found education a big distraction to my social life). I was about 2 ...more
MJ Nicholls

This is a book full of unbeautiful people: obnoxious teenagers, philandering academics, stuffy professors, right-on street rappers, wispy rich kids and more obnoxious teenagers. Zadie takes a scalpel to Anglo-American academic relations, probing away at the race/class issues with her usual mordant unflinching cruelty and compassion. She plants a series of depth charges in the lives of her wibbling characters, watching them each explode in turn into quivering heaps of gloopy suet. As ever, the ri
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Audrey
Oct 06, 2007 Audrey rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: The people who recommended it to me?
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paul
Mar 29, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comic-novels
I find myself liking Zadie Smith more and more. The blurb about this wasn’t immediately promising; another novel about a middle-aged academic having an affair resulting in a family and personal crisis. However, there is much more going on. Smith herself has acknowledged that it is an Homage to Howard’s End. The author creates a multitude of voices, all interesting in their own right. It is set in a fictional American university town, Wellington (a thinly disguised Harvard).
The novel revolves ar
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Fabian
Aug 12, 2009 Fabian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Smith accomplishes much in this, her third novel. "Autograph Man" was sadly not memorable enough & "White Teeth", the novel that quickly turned her into the valedictorian of all modern young writers, was epic but also did not engage me too much.

"On Beauty" is exceptionally readable, relevant/modern, complicated, witty. She has honed her skills, and one must be a 'lil jealous.

Like I told G. just yesterday: it contains that Middlesexian moment of profound awe. Modern novels, at least those th
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Oriana
May 22, 2012 Oriana rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2012
I was deeply displeased with this book. I can't believe I actually finished it; I liked neither the characters nor the language nor the style. I only read it because I got it for free (found it on the street in a pile of other middling titles), but though that excuses my starting it, it does not at all excuse my slogging through, stubbornly determined, all the way to the end. The truth is this: I was too lazy to figure out what to read next, which is incredibly idiotic, so I deserved what I got. ...more
Sally
Jul 17, 2009 Sally rated it it was amazing
Shelves: extreme-readers
I think On Beauty is brilliant. I loved the extra layer of meaning that my reading of E.M. Forster's Howards End provided -- but I don't think it's necessary to do background reading to enjoy this novel. The characters are "messy," as Zadie Smith would say -- most of them make a lot of mistakes, but, for the most part, you love them, or sympathize with them for all of their deficiencies. It's a book with many layers, which is just the kind of fiction I love the most!

Zadie Smith has experience in
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B the BookAddict
Mar 10, 2014 B the BookAddict rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: GR


Alive is the word which springs to mind about this novel. It is a glorious, page-turning, rip-snorter of a tale through the lives of a white British college professor, Howard Belsey who's married to a black American, their three near-adult children and Howard's nemesis – Monty Kipps.

My favorite part is Howard's reaction while listening to the glee club singers at the formal college dinner; uproariously funny and totally priceless!

This is a novel where I would love to read a prequel and a sequel
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Helle
Apr 11, 2015 Helle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sassy, smart and street-wise is what this novel is; what Zadie Smith is. With a literary nod to a favourite novel of mine, Howards End - which is anything but sassy and street-wise - this is a novel that only Zadie Smith could pull off. As in White Teeth and NW, it is teeming with snappy conversations, larger-than-life characters, literary references and unlikely plot developments (partly grâce à Forster); in short On Beauty is full of life and soul.

The prose crackles and sparkles, and once aga
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Mary
Mar 25, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: Josh
Shelves: fiction, 2016
This is why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn't be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman's magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki's knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures had made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies - it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it hom ...more
Josh
Nov 01, 2014 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone and all
Shelves: 2015, high-five
Why have I been put off by trying Zadie Smith in the past? Could it be the name of her books? With the names 'On Beauty', 'The Autograph Man', 'White Teeth' or even 'NW', could that have really been the reason why I hadn't read, much less really picked up anything by her? How superficial is that? I have a 'don't judge a book by it's cover' mentality merely because when one judges by the way it looks is ridiculous because I've found some completely ugly covers that have been great books and the o ...more
Alicia Vogl Saenz
Sep 06, 2007 Alicia Vogl Saenz rated it did not like it
I heard so many rave reviews of Zadie Smith. But all were recommendations for her book White Teeth. I wanted to throw this disappointing book against the wall. The characters were stock and predictable. The liberal art history professor. The self-righteous college student. The woman poet. The “uncle tom” Black academic. The strong Black woman. And so on and so on. None of their actions were surprising. So many characters, so many missed opportunities to illustrate race relations. Needless to say ...more
Jennifer
Aug 02, 2007 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I did not absolutely hate this book, I really disliked it from the beginning and kept reading in hopes it would redeem itself. Alas, it did not. In fact, there really isn't many redeeming qualities in the story or the characters whatsoever. The book was written with some style, but as far as the storyline and the characters go, the book should have been called On Destruction...which is, as it seems to me to be, where every character was bent on going in their own oblivion. I did not have a ...more
Emma
Apr 26, 2008 Emma rated it liked it
I would probably give this book three and a half stars, which is not an option here. I thought it was well-written and had many interesting, memorable scenes, but the book did not really feel like a cohesive whole. The story follows an interracial family in an academic setting. The father is a white art history professor at a private liberal arts college in a fictional suburb of Boston; his wife is a black southern woman and they have three kids.
The title "On Beauty" comes from a poem, which is
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Dannii Elle
Zadie Smith's deep and beautiful insight into the lives of undeep and unbeautiful people is astoundingly brilliant (yes, I am aware that I just made those words up. Let's just call it poetic license).

The book's angle is a pretty simple one: the reader follows the movements of the various members of the Belsey family, and those they come into contact with, over the course of a year or so, and begins to form an insight into how they interact with the world and the people around them. In reality, i
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Nelson Zagalo
O que me cativa em Zadie Smith (1975) é o mesmo que me cativa em Philip Roth, o virtuosismo na forma escrita, na argumentação ficcional e nos diálogos estruturantes. Se Roth é judeu, Smith é multirracial, mãe negra jamaicana, pai branco inglês, nascida em Londres, o que lhe permite trabalhar o mundo e os seus personagens a partir de uma perspectiva refrescantemente multicultural. O seu primeiro livro, “Dentes Brancos” (2000), criou imensas expectativas quanto ao seu futuro, que se vieram a confi ...more
Gabrielle
"On Beauty" is a bit tough to summarize. Zadie Smith got very ambitious with this book and threw a lot of stuff in there: academia, race, gender, class, privilege, cultural identity, religion, sex, coming-of-age; and then hung everything on an elegant E.M. Forster frame. Smith's prose is beautiful, and reads smoothly: I breezed through the book in a couple of days. She has that light British humor that never fails to make me smile and a good dose of compassion as well. The Belseys and the Kippse ...more
Jason
Nov 01, 2014 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Zadie Smith, but she has quite the reputation and she is widely read, so I don't think I need to talk about her writing (excellent), the plot (interesting and original retelling), or the characters (multi-layed, real). I was most interested in what the novel is saying about the academy, about art, and about taste. I look forward to filming a proper video review.
Madeline
Sep 14, 2009 Madeline rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-list
I try to summarize this book for people, and I find that I really can't do it. The story, when you try to outline it, seems much too short to be stretched out across 443 pages. Here is my best attempt at summary:

The story takes place mostly at a fictional East Coast college in the US, although some of the story happens in London. There are two feuding families of academia, but the only pair that even slightly resembles Romeo and Juliet are the two mothers. The book is about race, poetry, art, Ha
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Wanda
I requested this book from our public library because I have obtained a ticket to her Zadie Smith speak at our University in February 2016. I think it will be a lively evening!

Zadie Smith is a shrewd observer of the human condition. And she takes a good hard poke at the idea that knowledge and art can be somehow value-neutral, that we can ignore the purpose of the person who created a piece of art (I think that’s post-modernism?).

One of her main characters, Howard Belsey, is a college professor
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Eliza
I know very little about art, but this novel sparked a momentary interest in paintings for me; I looked up every one referenced in the text. If you're reading it, I really recommend you do the same, as it adds a lot of texture to the narrative (as hideously poncey as that sounds - and yes, that is exactly how my university tutor put it. She was right. She pronounces 'texture' 'textyaaah'.)

If you only take a look at two paintings associated with this novel, the ones to check out would be:

1. The
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Character is plot, anyway, says the man behind Darconville's Cat. On Beauty does just fine with its characters. But, "A character for me is any linguistic location of a book toward which a great part of the rest of the text stands as a modifier" says the man behind The Tunnel. I'll grant her the characters, but the language through which those characters are constituted verges upon cliché. Too harsh I know ; the novel reads too easily, slickly. And I know ZS does better. There is nothing here ; ...more
Lavande
Sep 27, 2007 Lavande rated it really liked it
Aaargh. I didn't want to like this book. I tried hard not to like it but there is no escaping that fact that as precocious as she is, Zadie Smith is a damn fine writer. It's a family drama but there aren’t omnipotent judgments or proselytizing about the book’s larger issues of race, love, and elitism.
An interracial couple struggles through the middle years of their marriage and the awkward social integration of their mixed children. Smith’s portrayal of a relationship falling apart is nothing ne
...more
C.
Aug 22, 2008 C. rated it it was ok
Recommended to C. by: 1001
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
CJ
Aug 06, 2007 CJ rated it it was ok
i loved, loved white teeth. i did not like on beauty. i'm afraid zadie smith wasn't able to capture american-speak very well. kiki has southern roots and, at times, she supposedly "went florida" in her speech and mannerism, but this was something smith simply stated rather than demonstrated. i could excuse levi's not entirey successful attempts at urban dialogue given his suburban/academic family background, but not carl's. maybe i'm extra critical b/c, in a past life, i spent some time in the s ...more
Addie
Sep 24, 2007 Addie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
just as my idealized fantasies about academic life were getting a little out of control, the characters in this book come along to make me realize academics can be just as gross as lawyers at times. i also realize i have never read a book about a professor-family before.

in the middle of the book, i told someone that i didn't like any of the characters (except for levi, who is amazing), yet i liked the book - which speaks well for the author. by the end, i liked the characters more. the black ch
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Alys
May 13, 2008 Alys rated it it was amazing
Deliciously brutal take on how class, race and gender are actually dealt with in the society of academia. Excellent stuff if you're into that sort of thing. At any rate, Smith again makes good on her gift for making the reader feel tenderly towards her reliably flawed protagonists.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
The impulse to gush inarticulately about this book is very overwhelming, but to do so simply to get it out of my system is to do it an injustice.

The second impulse I have is to try to revisit my University years and invoke the language of all those fuddy-duddy critical theorists (or, to go easier on my own poor brain, my professors) in order to disect a book about academia. This is much easier to resist, as the more difficult path of the two, though I do want to say right now that, like most of
...more
Inderjit Sanghera
Mar 28, 2016 Inderjit Sanghera rated it it was amazing
‘On Beauty’ explores the lives of the Belsey family-the father Howard, a self-absorbed and somewhat unlikeable academic, his long-suffering African-American wife Kiki and their three children; Jerome, Zora and Levi. All of the characters are struggling beneath the weight of expectations which society places on them-in fact, Smith is able to brilliantly explore dynamics of race and gender in modern day America without resorting to clichéd or hackneyed characters. In fact, it is Smith’s ability to ...more
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  • Adjunct: An Undigest
  • Schooling
  • The Light of Day
  • Dining on Stones
  • The Lambs of London
  • Thursbitch
  • In the Forest
  • Vanishing Point
  • Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
  • The Red Queen
  • Slow Man
  • Shroud
  • An Obedient Father
  • Small Remedies
  • Every Man for Himself
  • The Accidental
  • That They May Face The Rising Sun
  • Nowhere Man
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Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and NW, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. Swing Time is her fifth novel.

Visit www.zadiesmith.com for more information.
More about Zadie Smith...

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“The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.” 375 likes
“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful...and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.” 251 likes
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