On Beauty

Paperback | September 12, 2006

byZadie Smith

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Why do we fall in love with the people we do? Why do we visit our mistakes on our children? What makes life truly beautiful?

Set in New England mainly and London partly, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families—the Belseys and the Kippses—and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kippses, the confusions—both personal and political—of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of family.

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From the Publisher

Why do we fall in love with the people we do? Why do we visit our mistakes on our children? What makes life truly beautiful? Set in New England mainly and London partly, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families—the Belseys and the Kippses—and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching...

Zadie Smith was born in northwest London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, and of a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. Smith is a graduate of Cambridge University and has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities. She is a fe...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:464 pages, 8.4 × 5.4 × 0.9 inPublished:September 12, 2006Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143017632

ISBN - 13:9780143017639

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Customer Reviews of On Beauty

Reviews

Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Worth the Read I was very disappointed in this book and although I did finish it, I did not enjoy reading it. I would not recommend it.
Date published: 2012-01-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Political Times The novel On Beauty is a valuable educator of the times. It shows the technology, the values of society, the language, the manners, and the dress of the times. Email, now a primitive method of communication is used in this novel. Facebook. Twitter are contemporary techniques not introduced at the time that the novel was written. Email is a manifestation of the twenty- first century in On Beauty. The Belsey residence is also a demonstration of the challenging and changing philosophies of the twentieth century. The house is owned by a black woman. In the novels written by Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo, blacks and women are not even considered humans. The religion bound societies of the olden days are becoming archaic. We see religion being ridiculed as rationality takes birth. “Flirtation with Christianity” (page 44, Smith) Religion becomes obsolete, the technological protocol of the Christians. The zeitgeist of sexual references is constantly evolving. “I think she’s just ADD,’ drawled Daisy. Attention Dick Deficiency…” (page 211, Smith) The word dick is a slang, almost jargon of the adolescents of the 1990s. Over the decades, sex has been a taboo subject in every civilization. Accepting concepts is the first step towards amelioration. If one does not discuss sex, the problems surrounding it will never be solved. Discussing the topic of sex is an exhibition of evolving societies. Music and media are a sign of the times. “Ginsberg, and Ferlinghetti, and then … Mick Jagger…” (Page 218, Smith). Music is essential to time as a heart to the body. “When I married Caroline, she was beautiful, yes, of course. Like a Southern schoolgirl in bed. Like a child.” Ridiculing past tribulations shows the progression of feelings. Time is the best healer.
Date published: 2011-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from values and insights from fiction William Makepeace Thackery gave a pointed comment on the importance of fiction when he said, “Out of the fictitious book I get the expression of the life, of the times, of the manners, of the merriment, of the dress, the pleasure, the laughter, the ridicules of society. The old times live again. Can the heaviest historian do more for me?” Thackery’s argument is clear: fiction brings more value and insight to our lives than history books can ever bring. The novel On Beauty reveals these expressions. In a fiction book, the life and times in society are expressed by the surroundings and lifestyle of the characters. In On Beauty, life was seen through the conflicts that the two families of the Belseys and Kipps had separately and collectively. On the other hand, times in society were seen through the racial and economic conditions that coloured people endured. The coloured people had to face prejudices against them, even though the civil war, which was part of their history, already ended. Thus, reading the novel enables you to feel as if you were there in the life and times of the characters. In a fiction book, the manners and merriment are expressed by the practice and amusement of the characters. In On Beauty, Kiki's mercy and forgiveness were beyond the norm. She responded to Howard’s unfaithful acts with forgiveness. She still gave him the chance to redeem and prove himself a better husband and father. As Kiki always told her children, “You know me, baby, I cannot be broken. It takes a giant to snap me in half.” Even in the midst of family problems, Kiki and her children were able to find different sources of happiness: a new friend, education, religion, and being wanted. Thus, as you read the novel, you get to learn more about the different manners and conduct of each character. In a fiction book, the ways people dress are expressed by the personalities of the characters. In On Beauty, the character whose dress reveals his personality is Levi Belsey. He wore clothes that were too large for him and that were matched with earphones and a headgear. The way he dressed was described the most in the book, showing his meticulous character – compared to the other characters. Thus, by knowing the way the characters are dressed, the easier it is to imagine their personalities. In a fiction book, the pleasures and laughter of people are expressed by the goals and joyful moments of the characters. In On Beauty, majority of the Belsey family had educational goals. However, Levi nor Kiki had none. Unlike his siblings, Levi’s goal was ultimately social in nature: to be wanted, to be a part of someone. He was able to reach this goal when he found his Haitian brothers. He was simply happy to be with them, even though what he did with them was wrong. Another character, who was unlike her family, was Kiki. She found no joy in pursuing educational goals, but found joy and laughter in her only friend, Carlene Kipps. Thus, as you read along, you are enabled to understand, appreciate, and relate to the characters in the book through their sources of joy. In a fiction book, the ridicules of society are expressed by the shame and pretense of the characters. In On Beauty, Howard’s unfaithfulness was the biggest source of shame in the plot. Everyone in the campus knew about his infidelity. Levi was a character in the novel who did not go through shame but lived a life of pretention. He lied to his friends about his true identity and economic status. In reality, he was from the wealthy part of the city, but he claimed to be from the “ghetto.” Thus, by reading the ridicules that the characters had to go through, you could sense and comprehend the struggle and dilemma of the characters. In summary, you are able to learn more from fiction books than from history books. History books give you the plain facts, dates, and events. But fiction books can make you feel, imagine, understand, learn, and relate more to the life and times of society. Most importantly, fiction books bring you more value and insight to your life than any history book can ever bring.
Date published: 2010-12-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from On Beauty, Mostly Good On Beauty Analysis On Beauty by Zadie Smith illustrates the story of the Belsey family and the many things that this family experiences. Smith writes with baldness that clearly exhibits all the details of the story and the characters. She exposes the failures and misgivings of the characters, giving them a human quality often lacking in many other novels. She paints a picture that is very realistic and critical of not only the right wing ideal life but also satirical of the left wing idealism. She criticizes where criticism is needed and exposes where exposing is necessary. She uses the images portrayed in the novel to show her own political standing and to shed some light on the ghastly parts of two opposing political ideals. A criticism that I have for On Beauty is that it seems to attempt comedy and satiric nature but ultimately falls short. It seems as if Smith attempts to be funny but in doing so does not remember that the best humor is organic and that to try and create humor is not the most effective way of going about it. Whilst reading you often come across a part of the book where you’re not sure if you should laugh or not and end up smiling awkwardly as you are not sure of the response you should make. That being said, I think that Zadie Smith may have achieved her goal. Should her goal have been to make the reader unsure and feel awkward then I would say that she not only achieved that goal but she did an excellent job of it. Finally, I found On Beauty full of interesting language and the style of writing was very intriguing. As a piece of writing, the grammar and word choice was exquisite and I would highly recommend it for that fact. I would recommend this book for its illumination of personal and political issues and the ability to make those personal for the reader through the use of a family as an illustration. The images put forth in On Beauty are not only excellent but also shed light on much deeper issues.
Date published: 2010-12-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Left me wanting more... This is one of those books where I appreciate the writer's skill but was left feeling unfulfilled. I didn't empathize with Howard enough to forgive him for his weaknesses and faults. I didn't quite understand the vehemence behind his likes and dislikes. For a man who lived in shades of gray, he loved and hated in black and white -- I found him confusing. The rest of the characters were well drawn, although few of them were actually likable. And the ending left me feeling like I'd missed something.
Date published: 2010-08-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Easy Style This is another one of those books i started reading and then stopped, wondering why it wasn't grabbing my attention. Maybe it was because i was in SF at the time. I gave it another go when i got home...and was blown away by the way Smith writes. I liked her style, the way she says what she wants to say without preaching.
Date published: 2009-02-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from On BORING The plot line was unduly contrived. Quite dim compared to White Teeth, in my opinion ...
Date published: 2008-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I read Smith's White Teeth and absolutely loved it, but I just never got into On Beauty. Up until the halfway point I found myself reasonably engaged with the storyline, but I kept waiting for things to really get interesting. Then, about half-way through, the story just completely veered off in a ridiculous direction. I kept with the book to the end, but I didn't really care about how it concluded. On Beauty lacked the intriguing characters, quirky storylines and the wit of White Teeth.
Date published: 2008-01-28

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Editorial Reviews

“Glorious. Wonderfully engaging, wonderfully observed … That rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining.” - — The New York Times