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On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Zadie Smith

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7,207180494 (3.64)1 / 467
Title:On Beauty
Authors:Zadie Smith
Info:Penguin Books (2006), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Pima County Public Library, pcpl, Joel D Valdez Main Library Staff Picks, comedy, academia, marriage, infidelity, politics, race

Work details

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2005)

Recently added byLaurochka, private library, lovelypenny, stephb6, studious, mabith, LT_Ammar, sunflowersutra
  1. 41
    Howards End by E. M. Forster (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: Read the novel that On Beauty pays homage to.
  2. 00
    Foreign Affairs: A Novel by Alison Lurie (withwill)
  3. 01
    Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher (charl08)
    charl08: One a more 'traditional' campus novel, perhaps, but similar themes re English literature as taught at US colleges.
  4. 02
    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (BookshelfMonstrosity)

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English (171)  Dutch (4)  Hebrew (2)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (180)
Showing 1-5 of 171 (next | show all)
I slowly came to like this book. The characters gradually grew on me, at least those I felt sympathy for. An interesting story of a family in an almost critical state and how they deal with themselves and their outside influences. I could not tune in to Howard or Victoria at all however. An interesting book, looking at different types of beauty. Glad I've read it. ( )
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
another reviewer said it best "was not invested in any of these characters or their various crises" I'm 80% finished and ready to be done. Interesting and OK, but not a classic. Trails off at the end ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
I listened to this one first as I was painting the living room on Duffus Street. I liked it so much, I read it within the year. It's a wonderful novel. For me the most compelling aspect was how the young characters dealt with the roles their appearance gave them. How does a boy who is raised middleclass in a mixed race marriage cobble together a recognizable identity? How does a very beautiful young person cope with the attention beauty gets them? The characters are rich with contradictions and the ordinary randomness of human behaviour and the consequences of those behaviours. I love this novel. ( )
  PATSEA6 | Jan 23, 2016 |
This is the story of two diametrically opposed families. The Belseys consist of white Englishman, Howard; his African American wife, Kiki; and their three children. They live in the U.S. for the most part while Howard teaches at a New England college. The Kippses consist of Monty, a native of Trinidad who lives in England; his Caribbean wife, Carlene; and their two children. Although both men are Rembrant scholars, the families have opposing views on art, religion, and politics. When the Kippses move to the U.S. for a year so Monty can be a guest lecturer are Howard’s college, the conflicts between the two families affect everyone.

I liked White Teeth, one of Smith’s other novels, well enough, but I didn’t like this one. There was too much going on with too many characters, and nobody was really likeable. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
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Review On Beauty by Zadie Smith
5 stars

I have not heard/read any strong reviews for this book and fully expected to struggle and even planned to give up and switch to a different book. When I started the book, I thought "there is no way I am going to relate to these characters". This is about the lives of black people. The author is English, black, the setting is East Coast USA, academia. The story revolves around two families of college professors in the art field. Two men who appose each other in all points of political and moral culture; one white, one black. Two women, their wives, both black and their children who are struggling to find their identities while the adults are falling apart in their midlife crisis. I give it 5 stars, perhaps 4.5 stars would be better. Sex was a big part of this story. I don't exactly appreciate that component but then I think, "could this story be told without the sex?, was this gratuitous sex, to sell a novel?" Over all, I really think the author is all that others have used to describe her "gifted, sassy, philosophical, master of prose, master of detail, clever. ( )
  Kristelh | Jan 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 171 (next | show all)
On Beauty" is that rare comic novel about the divisive cultural politics of the new century likely to amuse readers on the right as much as those on the left. (Not that they'll necessarily be laughing in the same places.) Yet Smith is up to more as well: she wants to rise above the fray even as she wallows in it, to hit a high note of idealism rather than sink into the general despair. How radical can you be? Blame it on her youth.
Beautifully observed details of clothing, weather, cityscapes and the bustling human background of drivers, shoppers and passers-by are constantly being folded into the central flow of thought, feeling and action, giving even the most mundane moments - Levi riding a bus into Boston, Howard setting up a projector - a dense, pulsing life.
On Beauty is quieter. There is a complicated story making up by richness of implication what it lacks in exuberance. The culture of the Boston campus is set among the other cultures such a city harbours. Carl, the outsider who enters the story because of the muddle at the concert, is far from being a replica of Leonard Bast. He’s an exponent of rap culture – and it is a culture, unlike Bast’s pathetic aspirations. The power of his rap has to be explained, and indeed the author intervenes personally to endorse it: ‘the present-day American poets, the rappers’. The mufflered pink-cheeked charm of a New England campus in winter is very agreeably rendered. The row between Professor Belsey and Kiki when she finds out he’s been cheating is as deft as anybody could make it, he with his stumbling, evasive academic dialect and she with her ‘personal’ language and naturally inflexible notions of fidelity and honour.

In a late scene Kiki is sorting out her children’s accumulated belongings. As she is carrying two bags of her elder son’s ‘pre-growth-spurt clothes’, we are told:

Last year, she had not thought she would still be in this house, in this marriage, come spring. But here she was, here she was. A tear in the garbage bag freed three pairs of pants and a sweater. Kiki crouched to pick these up and, as she did so, the second bag split too. She had packed them too heavy. The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.

What makes this passage brilliant is that the sententia at the end, though it may be true, is somehow made ironical because it is Kiki, there among all the random evidence of her love, who is uttering it, and not some cheat, some intellectual, some person of recognised authority. She is the measure of Zadie Smith’s powers at 30, Forster’s age when he published Howards End.

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We refuse to b each other. H.J.Blackham
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One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father.
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Book description
En grotesk og morsom beretning om fjendskabet mellem to kunsthistorikere. Om universitetsliv, om kærlighed og sex og om at blive voksen.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143037749, Paperback)

In an author's note at the end of On Beauty, Zadie Smith writes: "My largest structural debt should be obvious to any E.M. Forster fan; suffice it to say he gave me a classy old frame, which I covered with new material as best I could." If it is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Forster, perched on a cloud somewhere, should be all puffed up with pride. His disciple has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender. The end result is a story for the 21st century, told with a perfect ear for everything: gangsta street talk; academic posturing, both British and American; down-home black Floridian straight talk; and sassy, profane kids, both black and white.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:49 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering Professor at Wellington College in New England. 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, and faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Then Jerome, Howard's oldest son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps. Increasingly, the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register...… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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