Having read all three of Zadie Smith’s novels, I can say that she definitely has a classic world conquering book in her and with each publication she is edging nearer and nearer to that landmark novel. Mind you with White Teeth she has created waves, The Autograph Man was liked by quite a few people (not me though) and On Beauty is her most focused work to date.
It is a bit futile to describe On Beauty’s plot. To be honest in this case it’s not the plot that counts but rather the themes Zadie Smith focuses on and trust me there are tons of them here. Multi racial families, Liberal vs Conservative viewpoints, fidelity, University politics and art. Really I’m skimming the surface. There is A LOT going on and Smith deftly puts it together and embodies all these layered themes in the two major families who feature in the novel, that is the Belsey’s and Kipps.
Unfortunately though, like her previous books, On Beauty has it’s fair share of kinks which decreases its appreciation value. Sometimes I feel that Smith tries way too hard to appear cool and hip, especially seen in the rapper Carl, which I felt was a stereotypical way of portraying hip hop fans. Also most of the time her characters burst into these self righteous speeches, which are a bit annoying, if Smith is trying to be as realistic as possible then these outbursts spoil the story’s themes from becoming believable.
Leaving those blips aside then On Beauty as a sort signpost for things to come. I’ve got a gut feeling that the next Zadie Smith novel will be one that will raise a few eyebrows.