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Thursday, March 15, 2018

On Beauty (2005) by Zadie Smith

Image result for young zadie smith
English author Zadie Smith
Book Review
On Beauty (2005)
 by Zadie Smith

  1001 Books to Read Before You Die was published in 2006, but the cut-off for included titles was 2005, meaning that On Beauty is one of the last books on the first edition list.   You'd have to be a cretin to not see the charm in On Beauty, a loose take on Howard's End by E.M. Forster.   Smith's version features two families, the first being Howard Belsey, a white Englishman, married to his African-American wife, Kiki.  They have three kids, all of whom identify as African American .  The other family is the Kipps'- Monty Kipps, a black Englishman and his Afro-Caribbean wife Carlene.

  Both patriarch's are professors of art history, Kipps a fashionably (or unfashionably) conservative Christian who has sold a million copies of his Rembrandt treatise and inveighs against affirmative action.  Howard, an almost stereotypical post-modernist, an art professor who hates beauty.  The lives of them and their children become intertwined when Kipps accepts a visiting professorship at the university where Howard is seeking tenure.

  As I said, you'd have to be a cretin not to see the charm in On Beauty, which is more or less what you call a "campus novel" with an incredibly close up focus on the world of faculty tenure.   The campus novel has been largely excluded from the 1001 Books list, Smith likely managed to sneak in on the basis of charm and wit.  I wasn't totally won over- I regret reading the ebook version.  On Beauty clocks in at around 450 pages in print, and I've come to the conclusion that 300 pages is optimal, and any ebook over 350 pages turns into a chore.

  I gather that unwieldiness is part of the charm of Zadie Smith.  I'm interested to read more of her books, but I'm not sure that On Beauty would be the one I would recommend to a would-be reader.

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