On Beauty

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on beauty book coverDoes it ever happen to you that something is recommended to you very highly and then you finally read or watch it and it sucks so very much that you think maybe you made a mistake and got the wrong thing? Well, that's what happened to me with Zadie Smith's On Beauty. Over and over people told me how great this book was and how much I would love it. And then I suffered through reading (well, listening to, actually) the whole damn thing, and it never got any good at all.

The first and most pressing problem with On Beauty is that I had no sympathy for any of the characters, save Kiki, and got very little insight into her. The major character, Howard, is a repulsive human being. And I get that he's supposed to be, and that the book seeks to expose liberal academics as racists and narcissists, but good Lord it's hard to keep at a book where you hate everybody! Howard is only slightly worse than any of his three children, who also play large roles in the story. It's not even that I hate them so much as just don't care about them in the least. If you don't care about the characters, it's hard to care what happens to them.

And, in On Beauty, nothing much does happen to them. The book is so impressed with itself that it actually goes into extensive detail of a university faculty meeting. There is nothing in the world that could make me want to sit through one of those meetings, much less read a book about sitting through one of them. The characters talk endlessly at each other, and we're treated to even more of their inane internal monologue, but there is no real action. There is one death, which takes place off-screen, as it were. There is some totally meaningless travel, in order to facilitate more talking. There are a couple of arguments and a couple of sex scenes. That's about it.

This is a long, boring, trite, self-impressed book. It's just bad. Don't read. Whoever told you you'd like it was has no clue about your literary taste.

3 Comments

Hear, hear. HATED it. Hated all the characters. Hated the lack of plot, the bad dialog - I finished it too, out of sheer perversity, I suppose.

I hated this as well. I only got about a quarter of the way through, I couldn't figure out why it had received so much praise. Go figure.

Also not a fan. I loved White Teeth, so I was really looking forward to this. I finished it because I kept waiting for it to get good and I have a bad habit of hating most books for the first 100 pages or so, but it never went much of anywhere.

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