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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 (542 )
5 star
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Overall
4.0 (128 )
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Story
4.1 (124 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Bernie Las Vegas, NV, USA 05-08-09
    Bernie Las Vegas, NV, USA 05-08-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    14
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Cliche characters, No plot"

    I guess I should start by stating that the narrator was fantastic. Problem is, the characters were boring (except for Kiki), the relationships were so cliche and unbelievable, the writing was forced and boring, and there was never an end to the story! I actually thought I failed to download the last section. I am used to thrillers, so I thought this would be a nice change because I had read so many great reviews about how it was "funny" interesting and exciting. It was NONE of these things. I'll go back and listen to "Confederacy of Dunces," which is what I wanted to do in the firstplace. Now THAT is a funny book.

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara Kensington, CT, USA 01-27-06
    Barbara Kensington, CT, USA 01-27-06 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    50
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    27
    11
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    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "Dull people in a dull book"

    This book was wonderfully read--each individual voice was distinct without being exaggerated. But the book itself was deeply disappointing: a random series of encounters among a number of cliched characters. And then it ends without having come to any sort of satisfying (or even unsatisfying) conclusion. If I'd been listening to it on CDs, I'd have thought the last one was missing.

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Freeman Oregon 05-13-09
    Cynthia Freeman Oregon 05-13-09 Member Since 2002

    cfreeperson

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    76
    7
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Not Funny"

    Contrary to the synopsis of this book, one thing this book is NOT, is funny. I mean, if you think it is, you must be a little twisted. It's well written and evokes a number of emotions but mirth is not one of them. I'm not terribly picky but this one is not really my cup of tea.

    0 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sherry Washington, DC, USA 05-28-09
    Sherry Washington, DC, USA 05-28-09 Member Since 2007
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    18
    1
    Overall
    "This book is awful"

    This book is horrible. I listened for a few minutes and then took it off my list. I am sorry that I bought this book and want my money back.
    I rated this book 1 star because I was forced to provide a rating.

    0 of 5 people found this review helpful
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