On Beauty By Zadie Smith

On BeautyOn Beauty by Zadie Smith was our book for July and one that earned a few mixed reviews.

A few of us failed to finish the book and others found it hard going, too wordy and felt it needed long periods of reading.  I felt really let down by the book as I had heard so much about Zadie Smith that I expected something to grab me, but it didn’t.

As academia was the main focal point of the book, we had a lengthy discussion about this.  Some felt it was featured too heavily in the book and that as they had no knowledge about university life, they had no interest in the novel.  Whilst others that had been around those sets of people felt that it was, in some respects, a true representation of their world; tenancy is considered not an easy life, with constant moving and having to fight each other for the limited places.

One thing that wasn’t obvious to those that had finished the book was that critics had described it as satire and this supposedly was a send up of those within the academia world.   We felt that this wasn’t immediately obvious and not sure if we had looked at the book differently if we had known prior.

The discussion then led to the ending of the novel.  Why did Kiki appear at Howard’s lecture?  We supposed it was just to cause problems.

Both Kiki and Carlene were two incredibly strong women and the fact that Carlene dies and leaves Kiki the painting, which the family decide she won’t have, shows how dishonesty prevails in certain families.   The whole premise of the book is about how the women formed a friendship, regardless of their husband’s hating each other and most found this the strongest element of the book.

We then discussed the cover and title.  Most of the members loved the cover and I read out the description of the title:-  ‘Howard’s theories about art; Kiki’s physical grandeur: the attractiveness of youths like Carl and Victoria; paintings by Rembrandt and other artists; Levi’s sense of the organic flow of street life; Zora’s frustration at her lack of sex appeal; Jerome’s sense of religious transcendence.  All of these characters express radically different ideas about the meaning and role of beauty in their lives.’  Beauty can be seen as many different things by different people, of which we all agreed.


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