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One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father:
Date: Nov 5th
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!
Zadie Smith on Beauty 1. Kipps and Belsey
2. The Anatomy Lesson
3. On Beauty and Being Wrong
Posted December 22, 2008
I read this book because it was on the list of 1001 books to read before you die. Though I'm still not sure why it's on that list, I did enjoy the book. I found that I liked most of the characters, though Kiki was my favorite. I think that it showed that no one really is as they appear to be to others. I also think that Zadie Smith's writing style is excellent. I had no trouble whatsoever following the dialogue and keeping up with what was going on. I would recommend this book to friends who like to read something different.
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Posted January 11, 2008
I'd heard lots of hype about Zadie Smith, and I was not disappointed with On Beauty. The book's unconventional opening line had me hooked: 'One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father:' The son is saving his virginity for marriage because of a new-found Christian faith, and his liberal, British father, a professor, is unamused - particularly when Jerome falls in love with the daughter of his arch-nemesis, a black, right-wing conservative who is anti-affirmative action, homosexuality, women's rights...and then we're off. Smith dexterously explores issues of race, class and culture through the lens of a family, name-dropping from Rembrandt to Tupac. This is a book that will set the benchmark for future 'modern classics.' Here's an example of her writing chops: 'From here she could see the strangely melancholic format of Jerome's text, italics and ellipses everywhere. Slanted sails blowing about on perforated seas.'
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 22, 2012
She's a great writer and I love this novel. I don't read novels for plot I read them for language and thinking. This is a fine novel.
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Posted December 6, 2012
The name of the title tells it all: On Beauty! I haven't read contemporary fiction before until I joined a class at school and this is one of the books we had to read. The facts to this story are oh-so-real that you feel the emotions for the characters. Excellent!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2012
Posted December 20, 2010
The story revolves around two families that live in Mass. The reader will find the Belseys family with the main character Howard Belsey an Art professor and from the second family; the Kipps there is Monty Kipps. Monty arrives with his family and begins his work at the same university that Howard is employed. In summary these two characters lock horns on various social issues (family life, marriage, faithfulness, etc.) and their strong views are covered in this story that spans over a one year period.
I suspect that so far this sounds boring, but the author did weave this subplot (I say subplot because there seemed to be numerous plots where I'm in the middle or I'm just starting another one) into the story to make it very interesting. I use the word "interesting" loosely because I found it difficult to find a lot of empathy for the host of characters, although Zora with her sexual problems did stand out in my memory.
The ending was a let down for me. It left me sort of confused, as if there were more pages to the story that needed to be read. Maybe that was intentional by the author. Overall I'm not sure if I would recommend "On Beauty" to my friends. I guess I would have to be very selective if I did opt to encourage someone to buy the book. Maybe, my best bet would be to advise them to check it out at the library.
Posted May 14, 2010
Believe it or not, I picked this book up in an America book store in Bosnia. The shop own chatted with me for a few minutes and then pulled this book out. It was a great book. The author pulls you into each character and she makes you reflect on life, especially life on the east coast of the states. Great read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2008
After the reviews, I thought this was going to be a great read. It wasn't even a good read. The attempts at American diction are pretty poor, the characters are annoying and unrealistic, and some of the passages are just boring. And what's with the mediocre poetry? It seems that this went straight from her desk to the publishing house, without stopping by an editor.
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Posted August 15, 2007
Posted April 26, 2007
I so wanted to enjoy this book, but I just didn't. I first read Autograph Man and fell in love with Zadie Smith. I also enjoyed White Teeth and was really anticipating this book, but it's been weeks and I'm still trying to drag my way through it. I found the characters generally unlikable and I really, really want Zadie to ask an American to read her writing before she attempts any more American dialogue 'or descriptions for that matter'. Should Levi really say, 'So then what am I meant to do?' or SHOULD he say, 'So, NOW what am I supposed to do?' We never say 'I have done.', we say 'I have.' I could go on and on. Basically, it's an 'American' book told in a British voice when each part should be told in the voice of its narrator. The constant shift between under-developed characters makes for a confusing and interrupted read. Something would finally start to happen with one character, when boom - now you're back with some character you haven't heard from in chapters who never really did anything anyway. I'm hoping that this one is a learning experience for Ms. Smith and I'm still awaiting her next novel. Based solely on her first two, I would read anything that she puts out there (no matter how long it may take).
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Posted January 9, 2007
Weeks after finishing this novel, I am still seeing and hearing and thinking about these characters. I should say that I had it read to me, an unabridged 'Books on CD' version, and when I say I am hearing it, I mean it. I sometimes turn and look at the source of a voice reminiscent of the orator's who painted these rich, tortured, and growing people on my brain and ears canvas, and whose lives I was lucky enough to catch some glimpses of. And if you are expecting a novel that is tied up with a bow and handed back to you, let yourself explore the surprise of this author's style. I believe this is really why I keep thinking about them, and wondering how this and that turned out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2007
This book was given to me by an English teacher of 30+ years and dear friend. As an avid (understatement) reader, I was delighted, having read the sterling reviews. However, I think I missed the point. I didn't find it particularly amusing and somewhat confusing in 'so what's the point?'. I find Smith's writing to be sterling, her imagery flawless, but her point is lost on me. I do understand the race issue, the problem with pre and post adolescent children. I'm not sure where she's going with all of this. Sex (in a sensational, adolescent context, academia, race and family dysfunction (somewhat deritivate)and not necessarily in that order and so? . . . . .Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2006
There are some great insights in this novel, especially about race and class and people who don't fit neatly into categories. On the whole, though, I found the book a bit dull and draggy, and, with the exception of Kiki and Levi, found every character really unlikeable. I didn't dislike the book but would not recommend it to a friend.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2006
Though I think 'On Beauty' is a great work of fiction and you can tell Zadie Smith's writing is amazingly accomplished, I still left the book feeling like I wished I had a fuller understanding of many of the characters. I think only Kiki and Howard get a real thorough treatment. Smith's writing, not her characters, really pulled me into this work and I'd recommend it to other readers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2006
I also don't know what all the hype is about. I didn't read White Teeth, but maybe it was better. Anyway, I just did not relate to or like the characters. The story did not grab me. I had no desire to even finish reading it, as I found it so boring.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2006
If you've read the the E.M. Forster classic, or seen the movie with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, you'll love this clever adaption. I'd compare it to the rendering of Austen's Emma into the film 'Clueless'. Recreated to a modern setting, retelling the beautiful and complex interaction of two families and opposing ideas about class, sex, and roots.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2006
I don't know what all the hubbub about this book is. Grannted, Zadie Smith writes beautifully and her insights and descriptiuons can be engaging and revelatory. But as a whole, 'On Beauty' did not draw me into the plot. Many of the characters are pretentious and unlikable. There is not a gripping aspect to the book. It's not as if you are in dying need to know what dull remark Howard is about to make. The plot is anecdotal and not tightly woven. No doubt you can find some amazing passages in the book but for me, it falls very short of greatness.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 1, 2006
I found the characters in 'On Beauty' to be unbelievable and mostly unlikable. The book would not have made me angry if the author wasn't so obviously capable of better writing. Or if all the media had not gushed so much over the book. I think that the plot is forced ... could two families ever be that entwined on every level? Could all of those people be so uniformly annoying, clueless, and in a couple of cases, evil? Also, I found the older people to be one-dimensional. Perhaps because the author is young. I read nothing but the highest praise for 'On Beauty' but I don't think that this is one of the world's great books. I feel as if Zadie Smith is very smart and has great potential. I have not read her other books but will probably do so out of curiosity.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2005
I read 'White Teeth' a few months ago and didn't think she could top that. I was wrong. This is a beautifully written and funny book. Ms. Smith is so insightful when it comes to the human condition. I can't wait to read her next book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 14, 2005
Zadie Smith writes a novel with a story about two families that will last in your memory for a long time. Her characters are unforgettable too. The author writes with pathos, emotion, and also humor. I read the first and last chapters over again, after I finished the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.