After reading the listener's reviews, some literary reviews, and learning that On Beauty was shortlisted for the Mann Booker Prize,I chose this for my previous "listen" only to be disappointed by the plot contrivances. Zadie Smith can write beautifully and with humor, but she has no qualms about manipulating the plot so the characters go to the places she needs them to be (e.g., Jerome to England to intern with Kipps, no less; The Kipps's to Wellington; the Belseys back to England for Christmas; etc.). There are too many coincidences for me to suspend my disbelief for long. Also, what makes Howard Belsey so appealing to beautiful poet laureates and young, hot students? He is characterized as one dry, repressed academician who can't even get enough students to attend his classes or finish a book so he can achieve tenure. On a positive note, there are many other interesting characters in the book. Also, the narration is quite good.
This is not an easy book, but it is a beautifully crafted novel, well worth the challenge of following a story line that is seldom chronological. Ali Smith does a terrific job of creating a unique "voice" for each of the five characters, and whole chapters are dedicated to their individual points of view. A motif of that which is real juxtaposed to that which is manipulated to appear real runs throughout the novel. The narration is excellent, and I highly recommend this Booker Prize-nominated novel.
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