It's been a while (nearly a year and a half) since my last GoodReads post. Over the last year, I have not had a lot of time to do much reading for leisure. I kept coming across books I wanted to revisit later and was worried I'd forget about them, so last spring I began to compile a books to read post-graduation list. The first one my hit list was Zadie Smith's On Beauty.
In this novel, Smith introduces us to the Belseys, a mixed race, bicultural family with a liberal and atheist bent living in a (fictional?) Boston college town called Wellington. Howard Belsey, the man of house, is an English professor of art history who in his fifties has yet to be tenured and deals with a great sense of inadequacy as a result. His wife Kiki, is a African-American nurse with roots in the South. Together they have three children, Jerome, Zora, and Levi. Jerome, balking against the liberal culture of his family becomes a born-again Christian while studying at Brown University and goes to England to intern with Howard's nemesis, the ultra-conservative Christian art historian Monty Kipps. Zora, Jerome's twin, is a firecracker of a woman - gutsy, independent, outspoken smart. Though she appears fairly self-assured on the surface, she is deeply insecure, particularly about her appearance. The youngest Belsey, Levi, has adopted the accent and demeanour more commonly associated with the citizens of the low income Roxbury neighbourhood than with his upper middle class Wellington upbringing. When Monty Kipps is given a visiting professorship at Howard Belsey's institution, the feud between him and Howard swells up. This also stirs up tensions within the Belsey household as
As usual, Zadie Smith is a brilliant storyteller, stepping into the skin of each character and presenting them astonishing honestly. I once watched an interview in which Smith said that while she loves her characters she rarely gets so precious about them that she hesitates to show their full humanity, ugliness and all. And I think this is what makes her stories so compelling. If you are looking for a good summer read with complex, real but relatable characters, then you don't want to miss out on this Man Booker shortlisted novel.
Smith's White Teeth is one of my favourite novels of all time, and I wasn't sure if this would live up to it. She proved me wrong and I can't recommend On Beauty enough. I am excited to read her other book NW, which is going to adapted into a film soon.
What are you currently reading?