On Beauty

On Beauty

Having enjoyed studying Zadie Smith’s White Teeth at A-level, I had high expectations when I eventually got around to reading On Beauty. Set in the fictional town of Wellington, On Beauty follows the lives of two families, the Belseys and the Kippses, very much in a similar way to White Teeth. Howard Belsey, a university professor, has a constant rivalry with Monty Kipps, and the members of the two families clash over various beliefs throughout the novel, creating a very humorous read.


So does Smith deal with the high expectation? Without a doubt. Smith manages, from the very first page, to create realism yet still being outrageously funny. Whether it’s the stereotypically strained relationship between father Howard and the teenage son Jerome, or the clash between America and Britain, Smith deals with potentially sensitive issues whilst maintaining a comedy factor – something that she is quickly becoming renowned for.


What Smith really excels at though is conveying almost real conversations through the medium of the written word. The novel opens with a series of emails from Jerome Belsey to his father Howard, telling of his vacation at the Kippses’ in London, and his decision to convert to Christianity and to marry Victoria Kipps. Even through these couple of emails Jerome’s voice comes across very realistically. The opening line ‘one may as well begin with Jerome’s emails to his father’ sets the scene perfectly, humorously demonstrating the events that will, in turn, set the whole novel in motion. The reader can safely settle down and read another Zadie Smith classic.


Although I don’t think On Beauty, or anything else that Smith will write, will ever top White Teeth, it’s certainly worth the read. Smith doesn’t attempt anything new in On Beauty, and it could be argued that she hasn’t really moved on from White Teeth at all, but I don’t think it matters. Anyone who can appreciate good humour and family life in the twenty-first century will enjoy this book, and Smith has safely stuck to what she is good at. Give it a try, and you may be surprised at how perceptive such a young writer can be about life

By Julia Molloy

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
find me on and follow me on

Tagged in