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On Beauty

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  58,359 ratings  ·  4,405 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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3.72  · 
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 ·  58,359 ratings  ·  4,405 reviews

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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 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
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 Bookdragon
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, unimaginabl
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
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
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
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 th
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.
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
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:

i do so love making lists.
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
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
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
B the BookAddict
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
"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
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
Nov 01, 2014 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.
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
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
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-women
I hated this book at the beginning. Good God, I thought, do I really need to read this annoying drivel for another 400 pages? And I prematurely assigned it 2 faded stars in my head.

But it drew me in. Zadie Smith picks out bits of human interactions, what goes on in our minds, out of our mouths, that give me pause. Her approach to race is multi-faceted (how boring, how tired a word, I can hear Zora saying) and should make you feel uncomfortable. I still think the novel is flawed in many ways. The
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After the huge success and critical acclaim for Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth' (deservedly so) and the intriguing strangeness of 'Autograph Man' - we had 'On Beauty' which at the time didn't garner quite the same level of critical acclaim, indeed some reviewers found the novel significantly lacking in comparison to Smiths' preceding novels.

Whilst 'On Beauty' may well not be Smith at her finest (see 'White Teeth' and 'Swing Time') it is certainly a very strong novel.

'On Beauty' - as the title sugge
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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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.

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“The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.” 450 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.” 340 likes
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