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Old 5th Jan 2006, 13:14   #1
Mike
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Default Zadie Smith: On Beauty

“One may as well begin with……” is how this booker short listed novel starts but in a modern take on E.M Forsters classic “Howard’s End” its Emails and not letters we begin with. It’s an interesting take on novels about academia like Amis and families at strife like Forster. Even more interesting is the transatlantic racial angle that Zadie Smith introduces with the main characters being either Black British or Mixed race American, both with very different backgrounds but all involved in University life or its periphery. Zadie Smith could have set this in the UK especially in London as her previous works have been but she takes on the challenge of setting it mainly in the USA in one of the second league of US Universities rather than the more obvious Harvard etc. Set in Boston she is able to explore the infighting, disloyalty, sex and power politics that inhabit any large institution.

Two families feature, the Belseys and the Kipps and the story spreads from North London to Boston, all the time exploring the themes of marriage and adultery, race and beliefs. She challenges the idea especially in the US part of the universal Black person, with right and left wing politics as well as poor Haitian immigrants and Black vested interest. But its far more complex than just race, it’s about attitudes beneath the skin, about aspirations and failed dreams. There is a streak of humour as well as a smattering of graphic sex – so it has all then!! It is a long novel and the narrative does take a long time to really get going with many twists and turns. It is hard sometimes to see just where it is all going especially with some of the minor characters coming and going plus the ending does seem a little rushed if not a little contrived in the way it tries to tie up the loose ends. That said it is immensely readable and quite engaging in places even if it is a little hard to visualise some of the characters as Smith tend to concentrate more on one family (the Belseys) rather then the other (the Kipps) so one of the main characters – Monty Kipps is never really shown to us so we never get into that characters mind set. So all in all a good read but not really special like White Teeth – it could have been but for the endless and ultimately pointless subplots that drew away from the main characters. Worth a look I’d say, but possibly wait till paperback editions – it’s a massive hardback to carry round!.
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Old 5th Jan 2006, 13:23   #2
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Glad you liked it enough to persist, Mike. I gave up about halfway through, but maybe it would have benefited from a more patient approach.
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Old 5th Jan 2006, 15:01   #3
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, having given up on White Teeth about 40 pages in.
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Old 14th Jan 2007, 20:36   #4
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I was supposed to read On Beauty for a class discussion this Tuesday. In preparation I decided to give it the John Self treatment by reading Forster's Howards End first before moving onto Smith's take on it. About fifty pages into Howards End I decided to leave it for now. Not because of the writing, but because I think there was just too many characters in the opening for me to get to grips with. Truth be told, I was struggling with who was related to who, who did what, where why when, etc.

So I thought I'd just jump straight into On Beauty. Fifteen pages in and I'm going to set it aside also. Too many characters at the very start of a book for me to keep track of and care about. I have no doubt I'll come back to it but for now it's just not what I feel I need or want to be reading.
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Old 14th Jan 2007, 21:25   #5
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I loved On Beauty. She's now on my favourite authors list, even though Autograph Man was only "okay".
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Old 15th Jan 2007, 12:57   #6
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Totally agree, Ang. Loved White Teeth, indifferent about Autograph Man, loved On Beauty. Stewart, it might help if you use a strip of paper as your bookmark and scribble characters onto it with a line about who they are. Totally takes any irritation or back-flipping out of reading.
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Old 18th Jan 2007, 17:11   #7
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I gave up on White Teeth and Autograph Man but read On Beauty all in one go. Thought it was brilliant; much better than Howard's End!
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Old 18th Jan 2007, 17:41   #8
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Quote:
Originally Posted by leyla View Post
Stewart, it might help if you use a strip of paper as your bookmark and scribble characters onto it with a line about who they are. Totally takes any irritation or back-flipping out of reading.
Or, I just won't bother with it.

After the discussion on Tuesday night with my writing class, nobody liked the book at all. Most decided not to finish it and those that did hung on just to see if anything happened. Then they rued that decision.

The guy taking the class had suggested we read it over Christmas. He chose that because it was what his personal book group was reading. He says they all hated the book too.
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Old 18th Jan 2007, 17:47   #9
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Hang on, Stewart, I got lost somewhere on the way. Are we on Howards End now or On Beauty?
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Old 18th Jan 2007, 17:59   #10
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Default Re: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Definitely On Beauty.
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