On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

This one is even longer than White Teeth. Described by Smith as an homage to Howard's End (which I read a long time ago and have just got out of the library again), the book mostly centres on the Belsey family, who live in Massachusetts: Howard, the father, teaches art at a university but has not been very successful in his career. Howard's bete noir, Monty Kipps, is altogether more successful, having published books which have been favourably received, and when the Kipps family move from England so that Monty can take up a post at Howard's university, things get awkward.

This wasn't very like White Teeth: while it had moments of humour I don't think it was a comic novel, and although it was longer it didn't feel like so much had happened. I think it could have been edited a bit, although it was a pleasant enough experience to listen to it for so long, and I was sorry when it finished.

While the Kipps family's move to America seems to be the trigger for much of what happens in the book, the main "story" is of Howard's failing marriage to Kiki: at the start of the book they are trying to come to terms with Howard's brief (and now terminated) affair: this causes both of them to reflect on what they've lost as they've grown older, and colours the way in which they react to events through the rest of the book.

As well as Howard and Kiki, the book spends a lot of time on the stories of their children - Jerome, Zora and Levi. It's now a few weeks since I finished the book, but just reading those names brings back memories of what they're like, which I think goes to show how well each character is described.

I think I spotted some of the references to Howard's End - especially the section at the start where Carl picks up a walkman belonging to Zora that she left at a concert - but it's so long since I read it that I can't really remember: I'm going to re-read Howard's End shortly.

Completed : 09-Jan-2007 (audiobook)

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