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On Beauty | [Zadie Smith]

On Beauty

Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith's third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people's deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.
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Publisher's Summary

Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for 30 years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard's older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?

Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith's third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people's deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.

©2005 Zadie Smith; (P)2005 Penguin Audio, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and BBC Audiobooks America

What the Critics Say

  • 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction
  • 2005 Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, Fiction

"[Smith's] wonderful ear for dialogue, as well as her uncanny ability to inhabit characters from different walks of life, is truly extraordinary." (Bookmarks Magazine)
"A boisterous, funny, poignant, and erudite novel that should firmly establish Smith as a literary force of nature." (Booklist)
"Like Smith's smash debut, White Teeth, this work gathers narrative steam from the clash between two radically different families." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (549 )
5 star
 (182)
4 star
 (152)
3 star
 (104)
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1 star
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Overall
4.0 (134 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.1 (130 )
5 star
 (60)
4 star
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3 star
 (19)
2 star
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1 star
 (6)
Performance
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  •  
    Cherrie Weatherford 11-15-05 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Somewhat Disappointed"

    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.

    10 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Barbera 08-09-13
    M. Barbera 08-09-13
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    Story
    "On the Beauty of Smith's Construction"
    Where does On Beauty rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    The Best.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Zadie Smith's sentence construction and diction were gorgeous. I loved the storyline and its complexities; she blended beautiful writing with modern style.


    What does Peter Francis James bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He did all the character voices so well. I enjoyed him as the main character the most, but he did all the accents perfectly.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    This book surprised me because it made me laugh out loud at many different points. You don't often blend amazing writing, a good story, tragic characters and literature with comedy. Smith managed to do it, and well.


    Any additional comments?

    I want to read all Zadie Smith's books now. Her modern writing is unmatched in my opinion right now, and I'm pretty critical because I'm an English teacher.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    meg Knoxville, TN 01-04-10
    meg Knoxville, TN 01-04-10 Member Since 2008

    meg

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    "Reality at its best."

    This is my first Zadie Smith novel. "On Beauty" is all about real people with real lives, emotions and messes to fix or live with. This author seems to understand men and their poor judgement when it comes to pussy. Zadie Smith understands how very large women feel about their bodies and how hard they try to squelch the feelings of unattractiveness. This is a very rich novel filled with laugh-out-loud humor and deep pain.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah Kate CT 02-14-09
    Sarah Kate CT 02-14-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great narrative, thought provoking story"

    I really enjoyed this audiobook. The narration was great, and I loved the story that was being told. As a narrative, I was drawn into the plot and characters and found that this was a 'page turner' of an audiobook. I kept playing bits of it at times that I don't normally listen as I couldn't wait to find out where the plot was going next.

    Alongside that, this was also a thought provoking book. For those interested in the life of academics, and politics of race and academia across the Atlantic world, this is a great book. I highly recommend it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Fadden Los Angeles, CA USA 03-21-07
    L. Fadden Los Angeles, CA USA 03-21-07 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great narration"

    Like White Teeth, I was engrossed in this story from the beginning. The narration was superb, I would like more audio books with this narrator. I highly recommend this listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ellen FROSTBURG, MD, United States 03-07-06
    Ellen FROSTBURG, MD, United States 03-07-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "could not put this down"

    Characters were beautifully drawn, narration was excellent. I could NOT put it down, thought about it when I wasn't listening to it and missed it when it was over. WONDERFUL!!!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jayne Louisville, KY, United States 02-24-06
    Jayne Louisville, KY, United States 02-24-06
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    "A Wonderful Read"

    I found this book wonderfully entertaining. After I read it, I read several of the reviews, and am glad I didn't read them til I was finished the book. I've never read so many negative reviews which I disagreed with so thoroughly. I found the characters to be intriguing -- flawed, yes. But aren't we all? This is a great story. It entertains and engages the reader from the very start.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer United States 12-22-05
    Amazon Customer United States 12-22-05 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very disappointing"

    The reader is absolutely fabulous. The writing style is very good. The actual novel, plot, characters, etc., are dismal. I was extremely disappointed and had to force myself to continue to the end. I'm not sure even that was worth it.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Terri Gilroy, CA, USA 12-14-05
    Terri Gilroy, CA, USA 12-14-05 Member Since 2004
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    "pretentious soap opera drivel"

    I stuck this book out hoping it would be redeemed in the later chapters, but it just kept getting worse. With the exception of Kiki, there was not a single likable character and the author writes about these pretentious characters in an equally pretentious style. None of this book rang true for me and it just felt like a dressed-up melodrama. I truly don't understand the high praise it has received.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diana Walnut Creek, CA, USA 11-28-05
    Diana Walnut Creek, CA, USA 11-28-05 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I'll look for future books from this author!"

    I really enjoyed this book and was sorry when it ended, even though it was one of the longest audiobooks I'd ever heard. I didn't feel any of the story dragged, and really cared about each of her characters. Women and men were represented in a balanced, three-dimentional way. The narrator was a very good choice and gave distinct voices to each of the characters. I think the end could have been better, but that's my only criticism -- and it still gets 5 stars from me.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
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