Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

"On Beauty" by Zadie Smith (Penguin, 2006)

She catches voices well. I particularly like the interior monologues like those on p.48, p.174, and p.225. And she can do one-liners

  • "his ears are not noticeable, which is all one can ask of ears", p.19
  • "They were speaking to each other with tinkling officiousness, like two administrators filling out a form together", p.199
  • "Umbrellas, like dead birds after a shooting party, pile up in the far corner", p.319

Beauty's a leit-motif . In this and other respects it's tempting to compare this book with "The Line of Beauty" - both are family-centred, the family involved with other worlds (of politics, of academia) with party scenes and secret sex, ending with scandal - beautiful people unable to cope in a world where beauty (or at least its expression) is devalued. Here

  • "Howard asked his students to imagine prettiness as the mask that power wears", p.155
  • "It's true that men - they respond to beauty ... it doesn't end for them, this ... this concern with beauty as a physical actuality in the world - and that's clearly imprisoning and it infantilizes", p.207

The only figurative art brought into the house was a stolen work.

A more pervasive theme is the search for racial identity. The main family is mixed-race, but some of the individuals yearn to reach out to their fellow blacks.

Perhaps only Jerome could have realised the implication of Victoria's reaction to the attack on Howard on p.416. Victoria's involuntary, revealing sympathy for Howard doesn't ring true, but I guess it's all part of the rush to end the book neatly.

Sometimes, especially at the start of sections, the author talks to us

  • I "One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails", p.3
  • 5 "We must now jump nine months forward", p.42

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