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On Beauty (2005)

by Zadie Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8,389206679 (3.64)1 / 530
When Howard Belsey's oldest son Jerome falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing Monty Kipps, both families find themselves thrown together, enacting a cultural and personal war against each other.
  1. 61
    Howards End by E. M. Forster (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: Read the novel that On Beauty pays homage to.
  2. 00
    Foreign Affairs 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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» See also 530 mentions

English (197)  Dutch (4)  Hebrew (2)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (206)
Showing 1-5 of 197 (next | show all)
This is an engaging novel of large scope, and with well-defined, vivid yet believable distinct characters. The writing is deft and mordant, without tipping into hilarity. A tale of tensions between and within two academic families, it revolves around Kiki, the wife and earth-mother figure of the Belsey family. Her feckless husband Howard betrays her and their children in myriad ways yet remains likable in a pathetic way, an object finally of pity as much as censure. I "read" this as an audiobook, ably narrated by Peter Francis James, whose deft handling of the many voices resolves the criticisms of reviewers as to Smith's treatment of dialects. ( )
  oatleyr | Aug 22, 2020 |
This story is saved by the far superior second half. Not as engrossing as NW, which I loved deeply, but proof enough that Smith is a master craftsman of personality and metaphor. Race, culture, privilege through comedy and farce. Slow in parts but worth working through. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
I don't know that to make of this. It starts out, seems to get lost and never seems to get to a point where it feels like it has finished. I'm just not sure I get it. ( )
  Helenliz | Aug 7, 2020 |
This is the story of the Belsey family. They are a mixed race family, the father being English and the mother of Carribean descent. They have been living in New England for the past ten years as Howard Belsey is a professor of art history and is seeking tenure at Wellington College. His chances have been damaged by another English scholar, Monty Kipps who takes an opposing stance.
The story opens with the news that Howard's son, Jerome, who is studying in London, has embarked on an affair with Monty's daughter but it has ended badly.
Their lives become further entangled when the Monty and his family transfer to the same college. Frictions increase between Howard and Monty and meanwhile the wives Kiki and Carlene become friends. Further entanglements ensue and the Belsey's 30 year old marriage is under threat.
This was a refreshing look at the lives of educated English-African families living in America. ( )
  HelenBaker | Jun 23, 2020 |
Dysfunctional families - with education (I originally had the word intelligence in the first few words but I think not). I don't think I would have finished it - if not for my book discussion group lol.

Some strong women characters- I think that's what kept the story going. One wins, one dies and others just exist.

Why 2 stars? - I can't choose one star - "I didn't like it" because I did slog through it.. so maybe one and a half would be a better representation of my feelings for the book.

( )
  nwieme | Mar 19, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 197 (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.
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zadie Smithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eggermont, MoniqueTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pouwels, KittyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
We refuse to b each other. H.J.Blackham
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For my dear Laird.
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One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When Howard Belsey's oldest son Jerome falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing Monty Kipps, both families find themselves thrown together, enacting a cultural and personal war against each other.

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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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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