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Archive: Other Books > On Beauty by Zadie Smith

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message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1545 comments 3.5 stars
On Beauty was published in 2005, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Award, made it onto quite a few "best of the year" lists and won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2006. The novel tells the story of an two academic families: The Belseys and the Kipps. The Belseys are the primary focus of the book and much of the novel is focused on Howard Belsey.

The Belsey clan is an interracial family living in a University town in Massachusetts. Howard, the father is a white professor originally from England and is married to an Kiki, a strong African American woman. Together they have three adolescent and young adult children. The Belseys represent the liberal, academic family.

There's a lot going on in the novel, making it hard to summarize in a way that does it justice. It's a family saga replete with your standard literary family difficulties -- affairs, raising kids, intimacy issues, and more. It's also much more than a family saga in that it tackles politics, race, and gender identity.

It's a smart novel, and brilliantly written so I'm not sure why I didn't love it. I guess there's just something about Smith's style that I have a hard time truly loving. I've delayed writing this review for several weeks trying to analyze what it is that doesn't appeal to me in her writing and I can't come up with anything. I did think the ways in which she tackled racial and gender identity issues were very clever and overall I enjoyed the book. I did really dislike the main character, Howard. The Belseys were so dysfunctional and much of that due to Howard and his behavior. I appreciated that Smith didn't allow it to end with a neat and simple resolution. This was no uplifting story of redemption but rather a realistic portrayal of how families are impacted by a variety of things (trying not to give away any spoilers). I think many people will love it and I encourage you to try it if the themes sound interesting to you.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6257 comments I have this one in hardcover. I've had it since publication. Somehow I keep not getting to it. I've never actually seen someone rave about it, but it sounds like you enjoyed it enough that I should get a little more serious about cracking it over.

The fact that it is hardcover is not helping me get to it.


message 3: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments I have a really hard time with Zadie. I've read this and NW and didn't enjoy either. It was too long ago to pinpoint why!


message 4: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6257 comments Susie wrote: "I have a really hard time with Zadie. I've read this and NW and didn't enjoy either. It was too long ago to pinpoint why!"

Hmmm, okay that's not inspiring me, Susie! At all.


message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1545 comments I think you may like it but I am not 100% sure on this one. I don't really click with her style but it's hrs to deny her talent as a writer


message 6: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 696 comments I read it last year and mostly I really liked it.


message 7: by JoLene (new)

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 1532 comments I read her first book when it first came out --- it was heavily hyped, but I didn't care for it. the thing that stuck in my mind was that the style was pretentious --- a talented writer, but almost a "look at how great a writer I am". Unfortunately it was so long ago, I don't have a concrete reason for why I thought that.


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