On Beauty

On Beauty

3.7 53
by Zadie Smith
     
 

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Winner of the 2006 Orange Prize for fiction and from the celebrated author of White Teeth comes another bestselling masterwork

Having hit bestseller lists from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, this wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom. On Beauty is the story of an

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Overview

Winner of the 2006 Orange Prize for fiction and from the celebrated author of White Teeth comes another bestselling masterwork

Having hit bestseller lists from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, this wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom. On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars-on both sides of the Atlantic-serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith's reputation as a major literary talent.

Named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and Publishers Weekly A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Denver Post, and Publishers Weekly bestseller A Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Atlantic Monthly, Newsday, Christian Science Monitor, and Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize BACKCOVER: Praise for On Beauty:

"A thoroughly original tale . . . wonderfully engaging, wonderfully observed . . . That rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A thing of beauty. Oh happy day when a writer as gifted as Zadie Smith fulfills her early promise with a novel as accomplished, substantive and penetrating as On Beauty."
-Los Angeles Times

"Smith's specialty is her ability to render the new world, in its vibrant multiculturalism, with a kind of dancing, daring joy. . . . Her plots and people sing with life. . . . One of the best of the year, a splendid treat. "
-Chicago Tribune

"Short-listed for [the 2005] Man Booker Prize, On Beauty is a rollicking satire . . . a tremendously good read."
-San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...[A] thoroughly original tale about families and generational change, about race and multiculturalism in millennial America, about love and identity and the ways they are affected by the passage of time. Ms. Smith possesses a captivating authorial voice—at once authoritative and nonchalant, and capacious enough to accommodate high moral seriousness, laid-back humor and virtually everything in between—and in these pages, she uses that voice to enormous effect, giving us that rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Oh happy day when a writer as gifted as Zadie Smith fulfills her early promise with a novel as accomplished, substantive and penetrating as On Beauty. It's a thing of beauty indeed. In tackling grown-up issues of marriage, adultery, race, class, liberalism and aesthetics, she thrillingly balances engaging ideas with equally engaging characters. As good as she is with big ideas, Smith is even stronger at capturing family dynamics, the heartbreak of broken trust as well as the lovely connections between siblings. —The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In this sharp, engaging satire, beauty's only skin-deep, but funny cuts to the bone." —Kirkus Reviews

"Smith's specialty is her ability to render the new world, in its vibrant multiculturalism, with a kind of dancing, daring joy. . . . Her plots and people sing with life. . . . One of the best of the year, a splendid treat. " —Chicago Tribune

"On Beauty is a rollicking satire . . . a tremendously good read." —San Francisco Chronicle

Michael Dirda
White Teeth brought Zadie Smith worldwide acclaim when she was in her early twenties, leading some people to fear she might be one of those brilliant one-shot hotshots. But after The Autograph Man and now On Beauty , it's evident that Smith is a writer for the long haul, an artist whose books we will look forward to every few years, a real and deeply satisfying novelist. E.M. Forster would be proud.
— The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
On Beauty opens out to provide the reader with a splashy, irreverent look at campus politics, political correctness and the ways different generations regard race and class, but its real focus is on personal relationships - what E. M. Forster regarded as "the real life, forever and ever." Like Forster, Ms. Smith possesses a captivating authorial voice - at once authoritative and nonchalant, and capacious enough to accommodate high moral seriousness, laid-back humor and virtually everything in between - and in these pages, she uses that voice to enormous effect, giving us that rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane.
— THe New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This is a superb novel, a many-cultured Middlemarch, but it's a rough one for an actor. James juggles a large cast of Brits and Yanks, middle- and working-class white, African-American, West Indian and African men and women, as well as street teens, wannabe street teens and don't-wannabe street teens. James has a beautiful, deep voice that at first seems antithetical to Smith's ship of fools, but he enhances the humor and pathos with vocal understatement. He helps give characters their rightful place in the saga. The parade of characters swirl around two antagonistic Rembrandt scholars in a Massachusetts college town. Howard Belsey is a self-absorbed, working-class British white man married to African-American Kiki and father to three cafe-au-lait children. Monty Kipps is a West Indian stuffed-shirt married to the generous Carlene, with a gorgeous daughter, Veronica. The book is funny and infuriating, crammed with multiple shades of love and lust, midlife and teenlife crises. Class, race and political conflicts are generally an integral part of a story that occasionally strays from its center. The theme of beauty as counterpoint to individual, family, cultural and social foibles and failures ribbons through the novel and wraps it up, perhaps to say that Beauty is, finally, the only Truth. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 1) (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Smith was highly praised for her debut novel, White Teeth, and it probably set high expectations for this third novel, but she may have tried to be too faithful to the book's inspiration, E.M. Forster's Howard's End. As much as Smith updates the class war with modern references to big-box stores, iPods, politics, and such, the academically based battle between the Kipps and the Belseys is more frozen in Forster's drawing room sensibilities than its contemporary urban settings. The characters are too strained and generally unsympathetic to engage one in their troubles or dreams. Yet Smith's descriptions of some of the personas, particularly the opposing matriarchs and their younger children, suggest a looser story that could have been a lot more fun. The work doesn't live up to the hype, although Peter Francis James's reading is appropriately earnest. Disappointing.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A hilarious comedy of manners in the tradition of Austen, Wharton, and Forster, to whom the author pays homage. She tackles class, race, and gender with acerbic wit and a wise eye for the complexities of modern life, in a 21st-century update of Howard's End. Beauty opens as hapless art historian Howard Belsey, a transplanted Englishman married to an African-American woman, returns to London to prevent his son from marrying the daughter of his academic rival, Monty Kipps. Jerome has fallen in love not just with Victoria, but with the entire family, whose Trinidadian, right-wing roots are a sharp contrast to the freewheeling liberalism of his own family. In the meantime, Belsey's other children, social activist Zora and Levi, who speaks only street slang and fancies himself from the 'hood, are each seeking the commitments and identities that will define their own lives. What results is a vivid portrait of marriage, family, the conflict between the political and the personal, and people's eternal affinity for self-deception. Teens will enjoy this romp through the labyrinth of relationships that help a family mature and find its beautiful moments.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An academic comedy of multicultural manners finds Smith recapturing the sparkle of White Teeth (2000). Following her sophomore slump with The Autograph Man (2002), the British author returns to biting, frequently hilarious form with a novel that concerns two professors who are intellectual enemies but whose families become intertwined. Radical theorist Howard Belsey, a British art historian married to the African-American Kiki, detests the cultural conservatism of Monty Kipps, a Caribbean scholar based in England. Kipps apparently has the best of their rivalry, having raised his profile with a well-received book on Rembrandt that stands in stark contrast to Belsey's attempts to complete a counter-argument manuscript. Through a series of unlikely coincidences, Belsey's son becomes engaged to Kipps's irresistibly beautiful daughter, Kipps accepts an invitation to become guest lecturer at the Massachusetts college where Belsey is struggling for tenure and the wives of the two discover that they are soul mates. As Smith details the generation-spanning interactions of various minorities within a predominantly white, liberal community, she finds shades of meaning in shades of skin tone, probing the prickly issues of affirmative action, race relations and cultural imperialism while skewering the political correctness that masks emotional honesty. As the author acknowledges in an afterword, her story's structure pays homage to E.M. Forster's Howards End, recasting the epistolary beginning of that book as a series of e-mails, while incorporating all sorts of contemporary cultural allusions to hip-hop, academic theory and the political climate in the wake of 9/11. Though much of the plot concernsthe hypocrisies and occasional buffoonery of the professors, along with the romantic entanglements and social crises of their offspring, the heart and soul of the novel is Kiki Belsey, who must decide whether to continue to nurture a husband who doesn't deserve her. While some characters receive scant development, the personality that shines through the narrative most strongly is that of Smith. In this sharp, engaging satire, beauty's only skin-deep, but funny cuts to the bone.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143037743
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/29/2006
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
206,517
Product dimensions:
5.45(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father:

To: HowardBelsey@fas.Wellington.edu

From: Jeromeabroad@easymail.com

Date: Nov 5th

Subject: (none)

Hey Dad—basically I'm just going to keep on keeping on with these mails—I'm no longer expecting you to reply but I am still hoping you will, if that makes sense.

Well, I'm really enjoying everything. I work in Monty Kipps' own office (did you know that he's actually Lord Monty??), which is in the Green Park area. It's me and a Cornish girl called Emily. She's cool. There's also three more yank interns downstairs (one from Boston!), so I feel pretty much at home. I'm a kind of an intern with the duties of a PA—organizing lunches, filing, talking to people on the phone, that kind of thing. Monty's work is much more than just the academic stuff—he's involved with the Race Commission and he has church charities in Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti etc—he keeps me pretty busy. Because it's such a small set-up, I get to work closely with him—and of course I'm living with the family now, so it's like being completely integrated into something new. Ah, the family. You didn't respond so I'm imagining your reaction (not too hard to imagine...) the truth is it was really just the most convenient option at the time. And they were totally kind to offer—I was being evicted from the 'bedsit' place in Marylebone—and the Kipps aren't under any obligation to me, but they asked and I accepted—gratefully. I've been in their place a week now, and still no mention of any rent, which should tell you something. I know you want me to tell you it's a nightmare but I can't—I love living here. It's a different universe. The house is just wow -- early Victorian, a 'terrace'—unassuming looking outside but massive inside -- but there's still a kind of humility that really appeals to me—almost everything white, and a lot of hand--made things, and quilts and dark wood shelves and cornices—and in the whole place there's only one television, which is in the basement anyway just so Monty can keep abreast of news stuff, and some of the stuff he does on the television—but that's it. I think of it as the negativized image of our house sometimes... It's in this bit of North London 'Kilburn' which sounds bucolic but boy oh boy is not bucolic in the least, except for this street we live on off the 'high road' and it's suddenly like you can't hear a thing and you can just sit in the yard in the shadow of this huge tree—80 feet tall and ivy-ed all up the trunk... reading and feeling like you're in a novel... Autumn's different here—Fall much less intense and trees balder earlier—everything more melancholy somehow.

The family are another thing again—they deserve more space and time than I have right now (I'm writing this on my lunch hour). But in brief: one boy: Michael, nice, sporty. A little dull, I guess. You'd think he was anyway. He's a business guy—exactly what business I haven't been able to figure out. And he's huge! He's got two inches on you, at least. They're all big in that athletic, Caribbean way. He must be 6' 5". There's also a very tall and beautiful daughter, Victoria—who I've seen only in photos (she's inter-railing in Europe), but she's coming back for a while on Friday, I think. Monty's wife, Carlene Kipps -- perfect. She's not from Trinidad, though—It's a small island, St something—but I'm not sure. I didn't properly hear it the first time she mentioned it and now it's like it's too late to ask. She's always trying to fatten me up—she feeds me constantly. The rest of the family talk about sports and God and politics and Carlene floats above it all like a kind of angel -- and she's helping me with prayer. She really knows how to pray—and it's very cool to be able to pray without someone in your family coming into the room and a) passing wind b) shouting c) analyzing the 'phoney metaphysics' of prayer d) singing loudly e) laughing.

So that's Carlene Kipps. Tell Mom that she bakes. Just tell her that and then walk away chuckling...

Now, listen to this next bit carefully: in the morning THE WHOLE KIPPS FAMILY have breakfast together and a conversation TOGETHER and then get into a car TOGETHER (are you taking notes?)—I know, I know—not easy to get your head around. I never met a family who wanted to spend so much time with each other.

I hope you can see from everything I've written that your feud or whatever it is is really a waste of time. It's all on your side anyway—Monty doesn't do feuds. You've never even really met properly—just a lot of public debates and stupid letters. It's such a waste of energy. Most of the cruelty in the world is just misplaced energy. I've got to go—work calls!

Love to Mom and Levi, partial love to Zora,

And remember: I love you dad (and I pray for you, too)

phew! longest mail ever!

Jerome XXOXXXX

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"...[A] thoroughly original tale about families and generational change, about race and multiculturalism in millennial America, about love and identity and the ways they are affected by the passage of time. Ms. Smith possesses a captivating authorial voice—at once authoritative and nonchalant, and capacious enough to accommodate high moral seriousness, laid-back humor and virtually everything in between—and in these pages, she uses that voice to enormous effect, giving us that rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Oh happy day when a writer as gifted as Zadie Smith fulfills her early promise with a novel as accomplished, substantive and penetrating as On Beauty. It's a thing of beauty indeed. In tackling grown-up issues of marriage, adultery, race, class, liberalism and aesthetics, she thrillingly balances engaging ideas with equally engaging characters. As good as she is with big ideas, Smith is even stronger at capturing family dynamics, the heartbreak of broken trust as well as the lovely connections between siblings. —The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In this sharp, engaging satire, beauty's only skin-deep, but funny cuts to the bone." —Kirkus Reviews

"Smith's specialty is her ability to render the new world, in its vibrant multiculturalism, with a kind of dancing, daring joy. . . . Her plots and people sing with life. . . . One of the best of the year, a splendid treat. " —Chicago Tribune

"On Beauty is a rollicking satire . . . a tremendously good read." —San Francisco Chronicle

Read More

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