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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.

3 Comments:

Blogger rmellis said...

Yes, I thought Smith did a fine job handling point of view -- which is hard with so many different characters. I normally find it annoying when a writer jumps from one head to another, but ZS does it so well that it felt natural. And she was fair and empathetic with all of them.

Except maybe with Victoria -- she's the one character I didn't really get.

10:41 AM

 
Blogger rmellis said...

I agree. I especially thought Smith did a fine job handling point of view -- which is hard with so many different characters. I normally find it annoying when a writer jumps from one head to another, but ZS does it so well that it felt natural. And she was fair and empathetic with all of them.

Except maybe with Victoria -- she's the one character I didn't really get.

10:42 AM

 
Blogger Red said...

Hi - great blog - enjoy EMForster

1:35 PM

 

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