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On Beauty

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  67,137 ratings  ·  4,756 reviews
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic ...more
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)

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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  67,137 ratings  ·  4,756 reviews


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Kinga
Nov 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-women-2014
Before we talk about Zadie Smith, let’s talk about me first. Here is something 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 ...more
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
Sean Barrs
The truth in this quote sends shivers down my spine. It's so real, like all of Smith's writing:

“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, unimagina
...more
Helene Jeppesen
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Contrary to a lot of people's opinions, I loved this book! The first couple of chapters were unpredictable and refreshing, and the rest of the book was an amazing story about family life, marriage problems, racism, growing up, and beauty.
I loved every single character, and while especially one of them behaved irrationnally, it was entertaining and informative to read about his decisions and the ensuing repercussions.
"On Beauty" was one of those books that grabbed me from beginning till end, an
...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
...more
Katie
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On Beauty begins as a kind of cover version of EM Forster's Howards End but it soon becomes evident that Zadie Smith has far too much creative brio to bind herself to someone else's inspirations. It's like she's soon magically improvising around a couple of central riffs. The interesting thing perhaps is that most of the weaker parts of this novel are when she's holding closely to Forster's parameters. This a tremendously witty novel full of lived modern life brilliantly described. It's essentia ...more
Fabian
Aug 12, 2009 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's honed her skills, & 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 that are i
...more
Audrey
Oct 06, 2007 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 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
...more
karen
Apr 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
i read this too long ago to write a proper review of it, but this is a little heads-up if anyone wants to check out a "summer reruns" list i made over here:

https://www.rifflebooks.com/list/237495

i do so love making lists.
...more
Nikki (Saturday Nite Reader)

3.5 stars

On Beauty by Zadie Smith is 442 pages. A very, very slow 442 pages in which you need to be fully engaged and present while reading. This is not a book you can breeze through, as the book would mention of certain characters: it is intellectual. There is no doubt that Smith is a talented writer, I just struggled a bit in establishing a reading pace with this one.

On Beauty follows the Belsey family: an interracial couple, Howard and Kiki, married thirty years living in an upper middle clas
...more
Oriana
May 22, 2012 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
Jan-Maat
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jan-Maat by: Kinga
Shelves: 21st-century, fiction
Overall my impression is that Zadie Smith is a nice person, but putting her book in my hands is a bit like putting two boxers of completely different weight categories into the same ring. She came at me quick with dancing feet and rapid blows that I took coolly, after four hundred and forty pages she punched herself out and collapsed exhausted against the ropes. But she seemed really nice.

I saw that On Beauty is meant to be an homage to Howard's End, naturally I labour under the mild disadvantag
...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
3. On Beauty, Zadie Smith
On Beauty is a 2005 novel by British author Zadie Smith, loosely based on Howards End by E.M. Forster. On Beauty centers on the story of two families and their different yet increasingly intertwined lives. The Belsey family, consists of university professor Howard, a white Englishman; his African-American wife Kiki; and their children, Jerome, Zora and Levi. They live in the fictional university town of Wellington, outside Boston. Howard's professional nemesis is Monty K
...more
Sally
Jul 17, 2009 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
...more
B the BookAddict
Mar 10, 2014 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
...more
Jennifer
Aug 02, 2007 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
Helle
Apr 11, 2015 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
...more
Cheryl
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
They are the damned
and so their sadness is perfect,
delicate as an egg placed in your palm.
Hard, it is decorated with their face
(Excerpted from "On Beauty")


In this novel of intellectualism, where street lingo is interspersed through dialogue, there is performance poetry and academic poetry; liberal academics angrily debate conservative academics about the right to one's belief and the need for inclusivity; Haitian workers form a resistance to low wages; two families of intellectuals, the Be
...more
Ace
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
About a third of the way through I wasn't sure I wanted to know any more about the Belsey or the Kipps families so I ended up reading heaps of other books while this sat waiting for me to return. The ending was strong and had a dash of drama. Not quite as good as White Teeth but better than Swing Time. A gifted author, I need to read her other books.
~Bookishly Numb~
Dec 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bleh
There was a certain amount of hype surrounding this book, and on the front cover, it is said to be a funny and clever book. Well, I'll tell you here and now, don't believe a single word of any of it. Get out while you still can! This book is a prime example of one I'd swiftly throw out of the window without looking back, but unfortunately for me, I borrowed this from my Mother, so today she may gladly have it back.

Since this is my first Zadie Smith book, I must say, we haven't gotten off to a go
...more
Josh
Nov 01, 2014 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
Madeline
Sep 14, 2009 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
...more
Felice Laverne
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stunningly beautiful. Breathtakingly real. Brilliant, and honestly one of my top 10 favorite novels forever more.
Mary
Mar 25, 2014 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
Heather
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a slow read for me. I'm not actually a particularly cerebral person, so I got bogged down in the parts about academic life. But I enjoyed the people in the story. A lot of them were supremely unlikable, but as was once pointed out to me, you don't necessarily want everyone in your fiction to be likable. Kiki is the character who resonated the most with me. I'll definitely read more by Zadie Smith.
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
...more
Emma
Apr 26, 2008 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
...more
CJ
Aug 06, 2007 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
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Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Ta ...more

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