On Beauty – Zadie Smith


Chosen by Sophia

Based on E M Forster’s Howards End, this book follows the lives of a mixed heritage US family, addressing ethnic and cultural issues

✎ Howard Belsey is one of the central characters in On Beauty. He is a professor, and an Englishman living and working in New England. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman, and they have three teenage children: Levi, Zora and Jerome.

Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard is undergoing a mid life crisis of sorts and can’t see what there is to look forward to in the second half of his life. However, when his oldest son finds himself a love interest, Howard and his family are thrown together with her family, the Kipps. The two patriarchs are academic rivals and do not see eye to eye morally, intellectually or otherwise and a series of events result which will definitely change the course of Howard’s future, which he had once worried about filling.

Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith’s third novel is an honest analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and a study of the deceptions that loved ones can act out upon one another. It also has an interesting blend of humour to it, too.

Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you.

✎ “While a fantastic book in its own regard, On Beauty‘s nod to E M Forster’s classic provides an additional layer of appreciation. It is a modern classic written in a contemporary vernacular with a bevy of characters who all have a distinct voice. Everything in the book is beautifully described, from the people, to the locations to the execution of everyday events. A thoroughly enjoyable read.” – Rachel

Published 2006
Penguin Books
464 pages

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