Rating: 3 / 5
ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith has been on my TBR for quite a while, so it was the obvious choice when I pulled the Reading Women Challenge prompt for a book that has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I had not yet read any of Zadie Smith’s work but have heard good things!
ON BEAUTY focuses in on a few families. Howard Belsey is a art history professor and a liberal activist. With his wife Kiki he has three children, Levi, Zora, and Jerome. As the book begins Jerome is staying in England with his father’s long time nemesis and complete opposite Monty Kipps. When Jerome falls for Monty’s daughter, Howard rushes to England to get back his son. The rivalry between families continues throughout the book even as the relationships between individuals constantly shift. When the Kipps family comes to America and Monty gets a job on the same staff as Howard, things get even more complicated.
I was left with very mixed feelings about ON BEAUTY. I could see why Zadie Smith’s writing deserves so much critical acclaim, but for me there was a bit too much going on in this novel. As we follow each of the characters between the feuding fathers, the wives who are forming a friendship and the various children in their lives, there is a lot of switching between story lines. The issues raised are numerous as well with juxtapositions between the beautiful and the ugly, Christian and atheist, conservative and liberal, the wealthy and the poor.
I enjoyed the characters for the most part and felt they were well developed. I enjoyed a lot of the scenes centering around the university. Howard’s children in particular have an interesting tendency toward activism and felt very genuine as they were portrayed more as getting caught up in the act of speaking out more than they were in the messages they were speaking about. I wasn’t a big fan of Howard himself as he is one who makes some very bad decisions, beginning with risking his marriage due to adultery in the beginning and continuing from there.
There were moments when I really enjoyed this story, but overall it was not a favorite book for the month. I definitely will look to give Zadie Smith a try again in the future.
Reading Challenge Categories:
#ReadingWomenChallenge – A winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction