I picked up Zadie Smith’s ‘On Beauty’ while browsing through the aisles in the British Council for the sole reason that the cover called out to me. I confess, I judge a book by its cover. There is no denying that one is attracted to a book by the cover. ‘On Beauty’ had a pretty vine and flowers theme with a black background. The front cover said, ‘Nominated For The Man Booker Prize’. If it is nominated for an award then it can’t be that bad, right? Right.
The book talks a lot about ‘art’. If there is one thing I do not understand it is art. Although ‘art’ is used as a backdrop it talks a lot about ‘family’ and that is one thing I do understand. Smith talks about two families, each following their own set of beliefs, each defining morality in their own special way. Howard is the most liberal-est liberal there is and Monty is a conservative, to the public. Both are each others greatest critics. Howard is ashamed of his son, Jerome, a staunch Christian who lives in his fathers house but prefers the Monty way of life. To add fuel to the fire, Jerome falls in love with Victoria, Monty’s daughter. In the midst of this drama Levi, Howard’s youngest befriends the wrong crowd and Zoe, his daughter, fights for the cause of a boy who ultimately disappoints her.
Meanwhile, Howard ruins his relationship with his wife of twenty years, Kiki, by cheating on her with an old friend. Kiki is devastated. But what is interesting is the way she reacts to it. She doesn’t make a scene and throw him out of the house. She lets him stay under the same roof, for the sake of her children, she says. But the real reason is that she loves him too much. Is it really possible to continue to love someone whom you’ve known for so many many years after they have committed the most unmistakable act of cheating? But she does, not in the most obvious way. This is a woman who has sacrificed her thoughts and her beliefs for the man she loves. She accepted his beliefs like they were her own. Howard comes across as a selfish person. He is so obsessed with his ideals and does not lend a ear to what the next person thinks. He is also a hypocrite. He thinks one thing but does something else. He holds a lot of importance to what he feels. All in all I found him a very difficult character. To read and to fall in love with.
It is intersting how Smith defines each character and gives each of them their own battle to fight. Every character in the book has their own ideals. They beleive in it so strongly that nothing can shake them. I did not understand the art. The liberal vs conservative battle did not interest me. What caught my fancy was the family dynamics. Parents work so hard to pass on their ideals to their children without realizing that they have their own dreams. But once the children learn to fight for what they believe in, parents feel like they’ve lost their control.
Why do we really love the people we love? And how far we willing to forgive someone even after they cross the point of no return? Zadie Smith understands the nuances of family. She writes so beautifully about life and its loves. The difficulties Kiki faces with her children and with decisions she has to make are so relateable. The book also deals a lot with female body issues. That part spoke out so clearly to me that I am saving it for another post.
I genereally do not like movies and books that do not have a definite end. For example, books that end with a puzzling situation or in the case of movies, like in Inception when everyone was arguing whether the totem stopped spinning or not. I’d like a proper ending to anything. I’m not a fan of “let’s leave it to the audience to interpret it”. But the last chapter of this book did just that and in a way I found myself liking it.
‘On Beauty’ is, for the lack of a better word, a beautiful book. Zadie Smith is now one of my top favorite writers.