Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: On Beauty

A dysfunctional academic family, headed by a dysfunctional academic, fights intellectual, academic, and personal battles. Howard Belsey finds himself teaching at the same institution as his arch-rival. More disastrously, he finds himself infatuated with his rival's college-age daughter. Victoria Kipps is a bit of a temptress, and Howard has no ability to control himself. Add to this equation Howard's long-suffering wife, Kiki, his academic superstar daughter Zora, one son competing with his father for Victoria, another fighting political battles he doesn't understand, and it becomes clear that this family is on the fast-track to disaster.

The book is set in what looks very much like Wellesley, Massachusetts, and I kept thinking that the school was modeled on Wellesley College (it's co-ed, but in all other respects seems a match). At least, that's how I kept envisioning it. I enjoyed the academic setting of this book, and absurdities of that world, which Smith details well. There were many times during the book when I simply wanted to hit Howard. I learned that I have very little tolerance for the weak-male mid-life crisis. I also occasionally wanted to smack Zora, who has a tendency towards the obnoxious. So, the characters are not exactly likable, hardly so. It says something that despite that I enjoyed this book very much.

Zadie Smith, On Beauty (Penguin, 2006) ISBN: 0143037749

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