Bibliofemme Bookclub An Irish Bookclub

January 10, 2012

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Filed under: Bookclub Books,General Fiction — Femmes @ 3:07 pm
On Beauty Book Cover On Beauty
Zadie Smith
Penguin Group USA

Meeting: 17th April 2007

A book of the year has alot to live up to. For some in the club, On Beauty didn’t. I found it a wonderful dip into conversations that other people have but that I was afraid to listen to. At times reading this felt like I shouldn’t, I half expected a tap on the shoulder and being told to stop eavesdropping on other peoples’ converstaions.

On Beauty follows the lives of two families, one British, and one American and how they intertwine. The setting is a third level college in America where the children are students, the fathers are professors and the mothers are the nurturing influence in the background. As a female writer her portrayal of the women in the story is interesting, but that’s a discussion for another day! The story itself is a jumble of conversations so expertly written I could almost imagine this as a film. A short film I hasten to add as, being honest, what happens in this book could be told in the next two lines. But as ever with any great book, it’s the telling of the story and not the story itself that really captivates. And this one, though a slow starter got me at every twist and turn, I enjoyed it immensely and if you do like stories that mirror true life then this is one for you. Described by one of our femmes as an episode of Eastenders or Coronation street, it is at times like that, the drama is told simply and there is of course a lesson to learn at the end of all that, but its a bit classier than just a soap opera. There are times when I found myself really connecting with some of the writing, for instance the description at the Belsley’s anniversary party when someone wanted to leave early:

If he caught you in the action of putting or looking for your coat, you were treated to a lover’s complaint; you pressed his hand, he pressed yours. You swayed together like sailors. You felt confident to tease him, slightly, about his Rembrandt, and he in turn said something irreverant about Marxist past or your creative-writing class or your eleven year long study of Montaigne, and the goodwill was at such a pitch that you did not take it personally. You placed your coat back on the bed. Finally, when you again persisted with your talk of deadlines and morning starts and made it out of the front door, you closed it with the new and gratifying impression that not only did Howard Belsey not hate you – as you had always previously assumed – but, in fact, the man had long harboured a boundless admiration of you which his natural English reserve had prevented him from expressing before this night. (p.106)

Not having read any of her other work, I think this was a perfect introduction to what is a writer with lots to say and an intriguing way of saying it. This is not a book that tells a unique story, it’s a book of characters and how they interact with each other and us, because let’s face it – what the narrator tells us can often be unreliable. I found myself questioning Howard’s actions and almost wanting to shout at him, while at other times I wanted to congratulate the other characters who had gone beyond what I had expected of them. To me, the beauty of this book was how each character dealt with each other and the situations hurled at them, and if that isn’t a slice of true life – I don’t know what isÂ…Read this book, if you enjoy people watching.

This month’s book was picked by The Dreamer The Dreamer

Score awarded by Bibliofemme: 3 out of 5

What the other femmes had to say

The Connoisseur “I have no idea how this won the Orange Prize for Fiction, it was a very disappointing novel. Aside from characters that were poorly drawn, there were a couple of irritating speeches’ plonked throughout, I found simply opportunistic. If people are likening this to EM Forster’s ‘Howards End’, well this one should be called ‘Howards Bottom” 2/5

The Writer “Liberally sprinkled with vivid characters and keenly-observed situations, this seemed to have all the right ingredients but still somehow left me craving something more substantial. Very surprised at how quickly it faded from memory once the last page had turned.” 2/5

The Techie “If you like soaps read this book it’s like watching a bad soap that leaves your memory as soon as you turn the tv off or in this case turn the page – Orange Prize judges you need your heads examined” 2/5

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