On Beauty – Zadie Smith (2005)


On Beauty was my first introduction to Zadie Smith, and initially, I was not sure how to take it. I had not been exposed to, or rather immersed in fiction as social theory, and did not know to go deeper with the text. Upon re-reading, more than a decade later, the story of the bitter rivalry between Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, as well as the symbiotic relationship of their families felt more succinct. The Belseys are a mixed race, atheist family with three children, the Kippses are a Trinidadian family, with two children, living in England. As the two families intermingle, alternately despising and loving each other, the reader gets a clearer and broader picture of prejudices, tensions, atheism versus born again Christianity, and familial loyalty. As with Smith’s other writing, On Beauty is a big and ambitious novel, populated by a large cast of characters. Opening and closing with a series of emails, the reader immediately drawn into the intimate relationship between the Belseys and the Kippses, without the formality of introduction. Told by a omniscient third party, the story alternates focus on one person or another at various times. There is a good deal of anger through the book, and lack of acceptance, which is likely Smith’s point through out – a mixed race family is an Other, and an immigrant family is an Other, but that does not mean they understand or accept each other. 446 pages

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