A blog for people hooked on books, and plays, and poems, and films, and songs, and ....

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I liked On Beauty so much I rushed out and bought a new copy of Howard's End by E M Forster. I'm glad I did, as I'm enjoying the homage Zadie Smith has played, and I'm enjoying Howard's End all over again.

On Beauty has a large cast, all well drawn and all with a role in the pacey plot. I particularly liked the comment on race and nationality woven deep in the novel. Sometimes just heroes and heroines playing out their part - other times a black American, a rich black educated girl, an English academic man, a poor American black boy, a very poor and political Haitian man. Most of the characters ask at some point - how does being Black identity them and change their lives?

Forster would have enjoyed the pomposity of the characters, they all make mistakes, no-one is right - although most of them think they are most of the time. It's a challenging novel in that way, there isn't a character who acts as the reader's proxy showing the way to the right thoughts and conclusions. They all make mistakes.

The plot is about two families - with opposing view points (conservation and liberal, Christian and Aetheist) - whose lives cross and re-cross, starting (as in Howard's End) with an engagement that is called off as suddenly as it begins. It takes place in Wellington (a kind of Boston suburb) and London. It is about infidelity, relationships, teenage angst, black politics, art, academia, poetry, love, beauty. It was funny too.

I liked it. And I liked it more than White Teeth.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince was not exactly an obvious follow on from Confederacy of Dunces but (having just re-read it) there are some links. Perhaps they are only 7 basic plots as some claim so similarities should be easy between many stories.

The two heroes are looking around at the behaviour of mankind to presumably find the best way to live your life. Each is surprised at the folly he sees. But there I have to admit defeat in seeking out any similarity. The prince is gentle and kind and thinks of others, Ignatius doesn't. The Little Prince has a very clear ending, Confederacy storms out. End of comparison.

The Little Prince may be dated (ie out of date) because of its gentleness but I found that if you can get past the first few pages and ignore that it claims to be apparently for children then it does toughen up. It looks at the battle between good and evil (written during WWII), the emptiness of wealth or power, the unfocused rushing around, the fragility of love, the pain of friendship and the search for happiness. And it ends with a Shakespearean suicide by snake bite in a starlit desert. So not totally or only addressed to children. In France this may be less relevant anyway since philosophy is a compulsory subject in schools. So philosophy may not be assumed to be only for one age group.

Almost certainly the book must be better in French: "It's a little lonely in the desert", "It's also lonely with people" and "Anything essential is invisible to the eyes". The book is full of these rather simple and true statements perfect for pinning on your student bedroom wall.

And you can read it in less time than ...... almost any other book.

papiermache for blooked