Howard Belsey is an Englishman abroad, an academic teaching in Wellington, a college town in New England. Married young, thirty years later he is struggling to revive his love for his African American wife Kiki. Meanwhile, his three teenage children— Jerome, Zora and Levi—are each seeking the passions, ideals and commitments that will guide them through their own lives.
I just love how varied we are with our reading tastes. Zadie Smith has fans. I actually understand why - she's entertaining and smart. In my late teens I think I would have enjoyed this for what it is. Right now though, Smith and I don't gel. I enjoy being entertained, but I also want to read a well-constructed story, believable (if it's meant to be realism), tight prose, emotional insight, and I want to either love or hate the characters.
On Beauty has moments of dazzle, where Smith manages to pull together a string of words that arrow into human emotion and motivation. She also grapples admirably with social issues. Her ear for voice is sharp. Unfortunately, these remain moments.
He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.
Mostly, she gave me skeletal characters. None stirred an emotion stronger in me than annoyance or mild curiosity. The uninteresting plot was carried along by large coincidences. The beauty theme was butter-spread thin. The intellectual interjections became ostentatious. So I can't even claim it was entertaining to me.
On a few occasions, one of the characters makes a point that other people's failings/behaviours were dull in their obviousness. That's On Beauty in a nutshell - predictable, obvious, clichéd. I can understand many like it as a fun read, but how this won the Orange Prize and is listed in the 1001 Must Reads is beyond me.
I didn't mind White Teeth. Though I had felt short-changed after a super beginning, I was glad I'd read it. On Beauty was tedious and I only finished it because my curiosity demands to know how authors will wrap things up and/or if they will redeem themselves. In this case, the wrap up was tedious and no, no redemption.