Review: ‘On Beauty’


On Beauty

by Zadie Smith

  • Date finished: Jan. 25
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 2005
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading list: Winter 2012-13
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts upon finishing:

Let me first say that I’m a big fan of that lady up there. I know it’s somewhat cliche to say this, but Zadie Smith really is one of my favorite ladies writing nowadays. She has serious talent and her books never fail to make a big splash critically — and for good reason. They’re just that good.

All that being said, it’s hard to sum up what a book like On Beauty is all about. It begins with a feud between two pompous, slightly ridiculous art critics and their families. These familiars are both ordinary and unordinary. Howard Belsey is (I imagine) nearly pasty white, British and married to the large and lovely Kikki, a once-political black woman from Florida who inherited the large New England house they share with their three very different children. Monty Kipps is also black, uber-conservative, living in England and originally from one of the Caribbean islands. He and his sickly wife also have two very different children, and when both families are in the same university town one school year …. well, let’s just say all hell breaks lose.

At first, I thought that this book would be some sort of meditation on philosophy, art and maybe a little something-something on academia.  And it was. But it’s also about so much more. It’s about family, and what it means to live and love as a family — through rough times, good times, and times when it seems your little brother is from a different planet. On Beauty is also about marriage, love (the real, nitty-gritty kind) and the relationships we form, break and attempt to re-build.

Joel asked me how I felt about the book after finishing tonight, and I have to say, it didn’t exactly leave me with the warm and fuzzies. Nor was it particularly uplifting. But that’s because, at its core, On Beauty is meant to be a reflection on life as people really live it. And oftentimes, life doesn’t work out the way we want it to. No matter how much we yearn for a happy ending to our stories, sometimes life just to happen.

However, I loved reading On Beauty (as I loved reading White Teeth a few years ago) because of Smith’s writing. She just has this way with words, expressing the little things in life so honesty and truthfully, it kind of startles you when you stumble across certain passages.

A five year age gap between siblings is like a garden that needs constant attention. Even three months apart allows the weeds to grow up between you.

There is a breed of Tuesdays in January in which time creeps and no light comes and the air is full of water and nobody really loves anybody.

Love it. Just love it.


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