Sunday, August 27, 2006

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

The Basics: On Beauty, Zadie Smith, 2005, 446 pages, nominated for the 2005 Man Booker prize.

How I found it: When I was researching for the review of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, I looked up the other nominees for the Booker prize that year and Smith's book sounded interesting.

What's it about?: A story of a family in crisis. The novel follows the lives of a British professor, his African American wife, their three children, and various members of the university community to which they belong. The characters learn more about each other and themselves and they learn how to love each other, even when they make poor decisions. The main storyline focuses on the parents and their failing marriage.

Did I like it?: At first I liked it, but the more I read it, the more I started to dislike it. Perhaps the fact that the book is over 400 pages long had something to do with the way the story started to drag halfway through. This book was supposed to be good enough to get nominated for a prestigious award, but I really don't see it. The book was mostly well-written but a lot of the plot devices felt quite forced and some of the characters were quite one-dimensional. Smith also uses a third person omniscient narrator which I found to be annoying, though I wasn't sure why.

Will you like it?: The story itself is rather interesting and deals with race and politics in an admirable way, although I think at times it is a little half-assed. It is one of those Oprah-friendly books though, so women might like it. I didn't like this book, but I didn't hate it so I can still recommend it as an okay read.

But don't take my word for it: Readers on really liked it, editorial reviews were generally positive, the reviewer at Salon liked it, as did the one at the Guardian, and the one at the New York Times.

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