Sunday, April 22, 2007

On Beauty

a totally, totally different book from the one reviewed below. This was well reviewed last year or so, when it came out; it's by Zadie Smith, the author of 'White teeth', which, if I remember correctly, is about immigrant families of different backgrounds and their children getting it together. A bit Romeo and Julietish, which, come to think of it, also drifts through this book.

'On Beauty', the Guardian review tells me, is Smith's homage to EM Forster. Well, I wouldn't know. Compared to Slaters, while successful, rather simple family, Smith's family is dominated by an extremely intellectual father who deconstructs Rembrandt in his spare time. He thinks he is right, all the time, and that he can defeat anyone with sheer force of intellect. One of his children takes after him, another becomes a Christian, much to the horror of the father, and the youngest hiphops along, getting himself into a dangerous scrape or two. Did I mention that the father is White English, but wife is black American, so the children are effectively black, too? The father has an [intellectual] arch enemy living in England, also black, who his eldest son goes and stays with, falling briefly in love with that guy's daughter (Romeo etc). Then the arch enemy ends up teaching at the same campus, and all hell breaks loose. Not least because the father thinks fit to sleep with anyone in a skirt (unlike his arch enemy, a severe Christian), one of whom describes him as being 'only human in a theoretical sense'. Oh yes, the mother tries to hold it all together, like it usually seems to be the women's role in families. A number of other random characters also appear.

It's a totally unputdownable book, poking endless fun at people in universities who are super-intellectual but unable to deal with real life. It's beautifully, funnily and extremely well written, endlessly more complex than Slater's book with which it should probably absolutely not be compared. In some ways it reminds me of David Lodge's books, though all his books are set in Academe, and this is the first one of Smiths in the same location. I am sure it would make a wonderful film.