Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith


3.5 disco balls

Published: June 4, 2005 by Penguin Books
Category: Contemporary Fiction

On Beauty by Zadie Smith is 442 pages. A very, very slow 442 pages in which you need to be fully engaged and present while reading. This is not a book you can breeze through, as the book would mention of certain characters: it is intellectual. There is no doubt that Smith is a talented writer, I just struggled a bit in establishing a reading pace with this one.

On Beauty follows the Belsey family: an interracial couple, Howard and Kiki, married thirty years living in an upper middle class town with their three children, Jerome, Zora and Levi.

  • Howard is an art history professor at a local liberal arts college who is hard to like; he always has an opinion (its most always negative) and he’s always right (or so he thinks)
  • Kiki used to be a beautiful spitfire but has gained a significant amount of weight; still a spitfire but that magnetic confidence doesn’t exude from her like it used to (I blame Howard)
  • Jerome is a young man trying to find himself in religion and grapples with adulthood and his relationship with his family; he is the rational one of the bunch
  • Zora is Howard 2.0 with the spunk of Kiki; she yearns to be accepted but her approach in getting what she yearns for is more alienating than endearing
  • Levi is sixteen and going through an identity crisis; he is passionate and loyal and trying to find something worth fighting for (his family doesn’t understand him – as any teenager would say)

What was once a well-oiled machine of a marriage becomes broken overnight. Howard and Kiki dealing with who they once were and who they are now, and the kids trying to come into their own while their parents unravel makes for an interesting household. Cue in a slew of other characters that will bring out the best and worst of the Belsey clan.

The story addresses culture norms, social class, political differences, stereotypes, personal vendettas and the like. It was portrayed in such a way that you did not feel the story was trying to lead you to believe one point of view over another; it was more about perspective. It’s an authentic portrayal of the inner workings of a family and the façade they provide the outside world versus what its really like when the front door is closed.

It had a very funny start and I was hopeful of the tone it set, but then I got lost in the weeds when the writing became too granular on the subject of art and literature. There would be pages upon pages of description and I rather prefer dialogue: bring back Kiki and her likeable charm. Kiki, Jerome and Levi were the only characters I liked; much of the others were highly irritating.

It’s a thought-provoking read and made for some good conversation at book club. It’s not a summer vibe read, but may be a good read cozied up in a blanket with fuzzy socks near a fireplace with a cup of hot-chocolate (now who is being too descriptive?!).

Have you read ‘On Beauty’ or another work of Zadie Smith? Do tell!


Purchase Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

  1. Wow, sounds like a book I would let it go. If it’s taking too long to engaging I just leave it… I have a huge tbr list to waste time. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure that I would have the patience to read this.I just struggle to have the patience with slowly paced stories.Your review was fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed your review. While I don’t think the book would work for me. I do like that it seems like an ordinary family and not painted as picture perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review Nikki I am really sorry this book didn’t work out for you, I really don’t like slow starts in books as well. I rather listen to books on audio if they start off slow at the beginning chapters, I hope your next book is a much better one, my friend. Thank you so much for sharing your awesome post.

    Liked by 1 person

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