Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I zipped through this novel in a of couple days. Her writing just blows me away, but I didn't emotionally connect with some of the characters.

If you go to the reviews on Amazon, they are very split. Some are call Smith's latest book a masterpiece and very deserving of the Booker nomination. Others, were quite harsh.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Truly human, fully ourselves, beautiful," muses a character in Smith's third novel, an intrepid attempt to explore the sad stuff of adult life, 21st century–style: adultery, identity crises and emotional suffocation, interracial and intraracial global conflicts and religious zealotry. Like Smith's smash debut, White Teeth (2000), this work gathers narrative steam from the clash between two radically different families, with a plot that explicitly parallels Howards End. A failed romance between the evangelical son of the messy, liberal Belseys;Howard is Anglo-WASP and Kiki African-American;and the gorgeous daughter of the staid, conservative, Anglo-Caribbean Kipps leads to a soulful, transatlantic understanding between the families' matriarchs, Kiki and Carlene, even as their respective husbands, the art professors Howard and Monty, amass matériel for the culture wars at a fictional Massachusetts university. Meanwhile, Howard and Kiki must deal with Howard's extramarital affair, as their other son, Levi, moves from religion to politics. Everyone theorizes about art, and everyone searches for connections, sexual and otherwise. A very simple but very funny joke;that Howard, a Rembrandt scholar, hates Rembrandt;allows Smith to discourse majestically on some of the master's finest paintings. The articulate portrait of daughter Zora depicts the struggle to incorporate intellectual values into action. The elaborate Forster homage, as well as a too-neat alignment between characters, concerns and foils, threaten Smith's insightful probing of what makes life complicated (and beautiful), but those insights eventually add up. "There is such a shelter in each other," Carlene tells Kiki; it's a take on Forster's "Only Connect;," but one that finds new substance here.
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The two characters I had the biggest issues with were Kiki and Levi. I couldn't latch on. There is a difference between Black American culture and Black British culture. I didn't get KIki at all. Why did she marry Howard? Why did she have no friends? What black american mother from that generation shrugs when her teenaged son stays out all night in Boston, a city with serious racial problems. Just curious is 'scene" the new slang ala "word"?

My friends are spilt on this book as well.


Tracie B. said...

i read white teeth last spring. did you read it? i liked it, but it took me a while to finish it. i get frustrated when i have to meet too many different characters, but in the end it was funny and sweet.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I started it but did not finish (very rare for me). The friend who gave me On Beauty for my birthday, did the same thing.