Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Devouring Books: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

What is this madness?! A book review that isn't Stephen King related? What a rare phenomenon!

I know I've kind of been doing the bare minimum of book reviewing lately (I only do every Stephen King because why break a 6 1/2 year habit?) but just as a quick example of how busy I am, I pay for a Japanese lesson every week that I have absolutely no time to study for because I have NO TIME hardly at all really. This isn't a complaint about my life, far from it, but more of an illustration of the busies that I have going on.

Having said that, Japanese class ends for the summer tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be doing year 2. Time regained? Perhaps.

Anyway. I guess I was here to talk about a book? Let's see... Yes. I have had On Beauty on my shelves for approximately eleventy billion years, which is slightly fewer years than I've had White Teeth on my shelf. I own 3 out of Smith's 5 novels, and yet, until this month, I have never been really inclined to pick one up. I can give you no rational reason for this, and now I am filled with regret that I didn't bring On Beauty into my life sooner.

This book is GREAT.  In many ways, it's the perfect book for English students, in that Smith gives you just enough information for you to fill in the gaps around what we actually see. The parts in between that I imagine may be completely different from the parts in between that someone else would imagine, but that's one of my favourite things about reading, about interpretation, and about fiction in general. Whilst this style also means that there are things you WISH were expanded on (I wanted to know more about this budding rap artist/poet, Carl, for instance), the fact that you are given such scope to explore it yourself feels kind of like a priceless gift.*

There is so much in this book that I'm slightly stuck about how to begin explaining it to you. It's sort of about this one family, the Belseys, who have a wonderful black mother and a terrible white father (their respective races are not what make them wonderful and terrible, but I'm sure it's related) but it's also about art and education and adolescence and making horrible decisions and having to live with them, and having to, or deciding to, live with the horrible decisions of others. I say it's about the Belseys, but it's also about their 'rival'** family, the Kippses, and it's about the college town they live in and also, sometimes its about facing ones own mortality.

I mean, seriously, this book gets through a lot in 443 pages!

There are some pretty deplorable characters in this book, and hardly anyone that I liked uncomplicatedly. My greatest hatred, however, was reserved for Howard Belsey, the patriarch of the Belsey family and also a pretty terrible human. The book makes it pretty clear that he's going through a midlife crisis (almost the very beginning reveals that he has cheated on his wife which NO YOU DO NOT KIKI IS AWESOME) but for me that wasn't even what made him the most deplorable so much as his style of teaching. Here's a thing about me: when I went to do my MA in Shakespeare, I figured that my return to academia was probably/hopefully a permanent one and one day I'd have that elusive PhD. When I got there, however, I remembered all the things I don't like about it- the fact that, to get the highest grades, you have to go for the most obscure part of a text and tease out something that you want to be there because it sounds cool. Belsey's teaching style reminds me of this- he is an Art History professor, and instead of encouraging his students to talk about a painting, he more or less encourages them to talk around it, never really getting to anything like (what I consider) interesting discussion. Also, he's a pretty routinely terrible human, I don't really wanna talk about it.

Basically, to sum it up, this book was awesome enough for me to actually write a review of it. I KNOW, what more do you need to know?! I am filled with regret for leaving Zadie on my shelves for so many years, and I suspect I shall very shortly be reading (and also acquiring) her other books. I really can't recommend this enough, so if you get the chance to read this, you totally should. Also HAVE you read it? DID you like it? Please say yes.

*Interestingly, a priceless gift is also sort-of given in this novel. And also MANY OTHER THINGS HAPPEN.
**Meaning that the patriarchs are rivals. Because of course they are.

1 comment:

  1. I have not read this BUT have heard so much about it (obv) without ever really knowing what it was about. And now that you have reviewed it (thank you) this seems amazing and I should prob go get it now