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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and the beasts - an absorbing tale of brutality and love
Beauty is a nineteen year-old Bengali woman who grew up in London and was then taken to Bangladesh and forced into marriage with a man in his forties when she was fourteen. Beauty had the courage to scream the place down when her husband tried to have sex with her, and he never tried again. Now disgraced and back home in Wolverhampton with her family she lives a life of...
Published on 20 Jan 2010 by A. Dracup

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More successful in its ideas than its execution
Selbourne's book is written with warmth and humour. It examines various 'outcasts' in society, and brings cultures together - the young Bengali woman trying to escape the fate of an arranged marriage which is mapped out for her, the unskilled, racist young English man from a deeply dysfunctional background, and the rather creepy middle class, middle aged white man with a...
Published on 25 Mar 2010 by Lady Fancifull


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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and the beasts - an absorbing tale of brutality and love, 20 Jan 2010
By 
A. Dracup "Angel Books" (North Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
Beauty is a nineteen year-old Bengali woman who grew up in London and was then taken to Bangladesh and forced into marriage with a man in his forties when she was fourteen. Beauty had the courage to scream the place down when her husband tried to have sex with her, and he never tried again. Now disgraced and back home in Wolverhampton with her family she lives a life of drudgery, cleaning and cooking for her two brutish brothers and her bulllying father. Her mother is inert and depressed and Beauty fears for her younger sister who seems destined to share the terrifying fate of a disempowered female in a rigid, male-dominated Muslim family. She decides to leave home and make a new life. Along the way she meets a number of interesting people including ex-con Mark with his gang of neglected dogs and a heart of gold, and the narcissistic Peter who has lustful designs on her. She gets work in a residential home for the elderly and gradually begins to understand what she really wants in life. And on her journey she manages to bring some kind of happiness to all the people she meets, enabling them to confront their own demons.
The story is told in a direct, unsentimental yet sympathetic way so that the reader understands and cares about the characters. The writing style is direct, evocative, humourous and immensely skilled, although some readers might become irritated by the italicised asides in Beauty's native language. And what a relief to read a new novel entirely devoid of the affected showy-off writing selected by a number of best-selling authors I have read recently.
I was sorry to reach the rather surprising end of the story, and within a few hours sat down and started to read it all over again.
This book will tell many readers more than they have ever known before about the Asian culture - its variety, its view of other immigrant groups, its warmth and its sometimes appallingly primitive beliefs and behaviour.
A truly satisfying and enjoyable read. Highly recommended - I'm telling all my friends.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning debut., 22 Jan 2010
By 
C. Madden "maddca" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
This has to be one of the best books I have ever read and the fact this is a debut novel makes it all the more exciting if this is the type of fiction we can expect from this new author.
The plot is described by the previous 5 star review so I won't go into detail (although Beauty is 20, not 25).
It has absolutely everything a gripping story needs; from the first page the story draws you in. There are only a handful of main characters whose development is fascinating. The story is extremely well researched (I work in an inner city area and experience these stories daily) right down to the language, the clothes, the environment, the behaviour. It is disturbing in a way no other book I have ever read is; in a way it is a horror story, the story of people living in an inner city and how those lives are so very different from others. The book shows the despair alongside hope, it is fast paced and not written in any pretentious literary style (considering this is an award winning book) which means it will appeal to many.
The journeys of the characters make for a story so full of many layers; injustice, poverty, social issues, love, family and lots more including western caucasian attitudes to family as well as the Asian aspect of the story. The comparisons between the cultures are so interesting and thought provoking.
Highly recommended and thoroughly deserving of any award presented to it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beauty by Raphael Selbourne, 3 Mar 2010
By 
Eric Green (Newark Englnad) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
This is an interesting book detailing the life of a young girl just out of her teens attempting to adjust to life in a West Midlands town(Wolverhampton) surrounded by strangers in a strange environment.As a Bangladesshi the pressures on her to enter into an arranged marriage lead to her running away into an even stranger series of encounters as she fights for her personal freedom.The author
uses the Bangladesshi idiom as well as slang English to create an oppressive atmosphere which runs through out the book.I found it difficult to switch from the two different speech patterns at the beginning but gradually grew into the the rhythm of writing used by the author and found the experience worthwhile.
(120 words)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty, written beautifully., 23 April 2010
By 
F. Mather (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
Beauty

It might be tempting, when starting to read this novel, to wonder how an author whose name and background mark him so firmly as middle class can render an authentic portrayal of a Bangladeshi woman and an English ex-con. Yet in this impressive work of fiction Selbourne captures the gritty reality of Wolverhampton's unemployed so successfully that this preconception is easily cast aside.
The novel is full of accurately rendered dialogue which includes Beauty's accented English, Mark's Wolverhampton vernacular and Peter's bland middle-class tones with occasional snatches of Jamaican and Somalian accents thrown into the mix as well.
The two male characters are quite surprising; Peter, superficially, is charming and handsome, but beneath this veneer he is selfish and disturbing. Mark on the other hand we might expect to dislike, with his excessive swearing and crime-filled past, but Selbourne takes him on a journey which transforms him into a character who shows a touching respect for Beauty and keenly hopes to be able to improve his life and situation.
As its central theme the novel addresses the plight of the eponymous heroine Beauty, who is escaping from her abusive past and potentially horrific future. Through Beauty we witness the disturbing isolation and violence of her home life and gain an insight into the social restrictions which bind her. Yet we are given a fresh insight into our own society through her eyes: her horror in realising that we abandon our elderly parents to care homes, in the name of 'freedom'.
We learn a lot from Beauty's internal conversations with herself, constantly questioning how she should behave and wondering how she fits into the world now that she has left her family, which eventually leads us to the novel's somewhat unexpected conclusion. This conclusion which on first appearances might seem to be a disappointment, a fatal error by Selbourne, actually gives the novel far greater strength and underlines the importance of living life on your own terms, not those dictated by others.
A wonderful, innovative, refreshing read that lingers in the mind long after you reach the end of the book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, touching and funny., 3 Feb 2010
By 
G. Arnold (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
I wasn't sure how much I wanted to read a book about an abused young Asian woman (the Beauty of the title), written by a white male name of Raphael Selbourne. However,I was wrong to doubt. This is a wonderful book: up-to-the minute, humorous and touching, but tough and clear-eyed in the way it examines the prejudices of all sections of society, including the politically-correct ones of the not-so-admirable middle-class characters. It tellingly depicts multicultural estate life in the Midlands with all the struggling inhabitants who scrape a living on and off the breadline. Selbourne's desriptions are spot-on; you can almost taste and smell Mark Aston's dog-fouled flat. But the novel's not unremittingly bleak; if fact, in spite of its subject matter (abuse, racism, homelessness,unemployment,illiteracy), it's not bleak at all. The characters are funny, warm, and surprise you with their resourcefulness and failure to conform to type. The dialogue is brilliant. Best of all, the eponymous Beauty Begum shows us how a simple and uneducated woman can beat the odds because of her courage, faith, and toughness of character. Beauty the character is a great creation. Beauty the book is too. The Costa judges were not wrong in judging it the best first novel of 2009.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More successful in its ideas than its execution, 25 Mar 2010
By 
This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
Selbourne's book is written with warmth and humour. It examines various 'outcasts' in society, and brings cultures together - the young Bengali woman trying to escape the fate of an arranged marriage which is mapped out for her, the unskilled, racist young English man from a deeply dysfunctional background, and the rather creepy middle class, middle aged white man with a predilection for hard-core Internet pawn. Their fates collide and all are changed by the encounter. Selbourne is compassionate both towards the attractive, likeable Beauty, and towards the young man who could so easily drift further downwards towards overt fascism and the BNP and further into crime and violence. Peter fares less well. I didn't quite believe in the other 2 central characters - Mark drawn perhaps a little too darkly in the beginning for his journey to be altogether credible, and Peter never quite making sense for being physically located as Mark's neighbour - I really couldn't see why he wouldn't have been living in a less tawdry neighbourhood.

Beauty herself, and how she shows us white culture through Bengali eyes, is well drawn, though as the only person from her community or her wider Muslim culture to be drawn with any sympathy, I felt there was also something not quite authentic in the telling - all the Muslim men in the story seemed to be either fundamentalist bigots or no-hopers, and the other Muslim women broken, untrustworthy or compromised.

The constant insertion of Bengali sentences and phrases WITHOUT a glossary seemed a little like showing off! Yes of course it adds authenticity, but as the book is written in English, and presumably we as readers are supposed to be getting insights into character, I couldn't understand why Selbourne was withholding the information.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic sense of place, 22 Feb 2010
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
I lived in Wolverhampton - a fairly big city -for almost 10 years and I have always felt that it was odd that this city features so rarely in novels. So I personally greatly enjoyed the sense of place conveyed in this book - I was able to reflect upon the similarities and the differences to when I lived there.
I also liked the author's respect for the local dialect and its authentic reproduction here. This technique reminded me of Irvine Welsh's reproduction of Scots dialect in 'Trainspotting'.
I thought that the author was fairly careful to give good cues to the meaning of Bengali words when they first appeared in the text. However I would have found a glossary useful personally as I often had to search back for the meaning of a Bengali word when it was used for the second time - not because the meaning was needed to understand the text, but because it enriched my enjoyment of the book.
The subject matter of this novel was contemporary and gave an insight into working class and immigrant lives in Britain now. The character of Beauty was easy to like. Ideally I would have liked her personal journey to be longer and more detailed, the pitfalls she experienced along the way could have been dealt with in more depth had the novel been longer.
Still, always leave your audience wanting more!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wife's choice, 24 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
Another book I bought for my wife which she is currently reading. She tells me I will also like it and very happy to give it a go.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Four years on, would the situation be better or worse for Beauty?, 31 July 2013
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
This book, published in 2009 and winner of both the 2009 Costa First Novel Award and the 2010 McKitterick Prize, addresses flight from an arranged marriage, physical and mental abuse, and family dishonour. The story takes place in the multi-cultural and economically poor communities in Wolverhampton. The book begins with Beauty Begum getting up to start another day. Now aged 20, at 14 she courageously refused to go ahead with an arranged marriage in Bangladesh to a much older mullah who wanted to come to live in the UK. Her means of refusal was to appear mentally-unbalanced and so she was sent back to England in disgrace. By doing this she dishonoured her Bengali family. One of the most disquieting features is the intense hostility of her family, notably her younger brother, Faisal, who spies on her, reports back to their parents and her elder brother Dulal who abuses his sister physically and verbally.

Beauty rarely leaves her home, doing all the chores since she was 9, but on this particular day she has to go to the Jobcentre where she is informed that, to claim benefits, she must attend a course at RiteSkills. The coordinator of this agency, Colin, has a multicultural audience and, as he presents his course, we hear both what he is saying, "We need to co-elate this information and cascade it back up to the Jobcentre so they can interpretate it", the mispronunciations are intended by the author, and what he is thinking, "The scum didn't deserve twenty days' sick and holiday over six months. That was more than he got". Indeed, we hear these internal and external voices for all main characters, a device that works very well.

When her family pressurise Beauty again to marry the mullah, she decides to leave home. She is rescued from her brothers by Mark Aston, who is also on her Ritesills course, a young man out of prison who lets his bull terriers live in, and foul, his house since a major income comes from selling their pedigree pups. Mark's other interests are alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Imprisoned for stealing cars, he is now determined to go straight. Beauty and Mark become genuinely fond of one another. He begins to clean up his house and she gets over her revulsion to his dogs, which protect her when her brothers come calling. Peter Hemmings, Mark's middle-class neighbour, spends his spare time surfing the "free listing pages, an A-Z of sexual preferences" and then following the links, or fending off phone calls from his neurotic ex-girlfriend. When Peter meets Beauty, through Mark, he imagines how she could transform his life.

Selbourne wonderfully describes Beauty's Bengali household, her tentative exploration (guided by Mark and Peter, neither of whom is totally altruistic) of British multicultural society, Mark's working-class world of casual sex, smoky pubs and hard grafting, and Peter's disillusionment with his personal and professional life; of the three, his is the most dismal future. The author's description of Mark's disgusting, and that is putting in mildly, home shared with dog hairs, puddles and worse is great writing, "The air was thick with the smell of dog shit and ammonia", "In the kitchen, Mark gagged as he picked up the turds in a plastic bag". He certainly wasn't going outside as "he hadn't done the yard for a few days and the rain had turned the shit into mud."

I am no expert, but the author seems to capture the voices and dialects of all the major and minor characters, male and female, mainstream or ethnic minority. We see Beauty finding out about life outside her home, her initial naivety about British people gradually being replaced by a growing awareness. Through her eyes, we also see her becoming stronger and more self-confident, much to her surprise, and eventually working in an old people's home where she is kind and considerate to the elderly, as her Bengali upbringing has taught her. The idea that children would let their parents live in such surroundings is far beyond her understanding. Wolverhampton is a place of untrustworthy and dirty people, immoral, dangerous and sexually active. Beauty's upbringing enables her to see Britain's "freedoms and rights" from an interesting perspective, they will undermine the ethical and moral guidelines of her religion. She feels her values are under attack, but at the same time enjoys the idea of doing what she wants to, when she wants to and of putting herself first for the first time. Is the view of her family and community the only one she should consider? She sees girls much younger than herself married, dressed provocatively and behaving in a manner which she finds appalling.

The story kept me gripped throughout. Both Mark, shaven-headed, ex-offender, dog breeder, and Peter, separated, middle class and in mid-life crisis, are very real characters in how they behave, think and act. The author offers information about the main characters and their communities but does not lead us about what to think and how to respond. At the heart of the novel is Selbourne's superb ability to capture the diversity and energy of the world that Beauty sees around her for the very first time. He uses an extensive phonetic dialogue, when Mark calls his drug supplier,: "Oright Paula, Its Mark." "Ullo bab! Am y'oright, am y'?" "Ar, sownd". Beauty comes to understand that she faces a choice between her family duty and her personal freedom, she vacillates and, at one moment, sees her future lying in one direction whilst, a few pages later, decides on the opposite. Can she trust her family if she returns home? How will her mother manage without her?

Beauty, really is a beauty - physically (which she never realises) and morally; she is concerned with people, her family and people in general. She is strong enough to admit to her inability to read and write very well, and Mark gives her support and encouragement - a beautiful scene. Her initial lack of awareness of the world outside her home makes her believe the worst about the non-Bangladeshi world. At the end of the novel, the reader is left wondering what will happen to her. Maybe there will be a sequel, picking up her life 5 years on, when life for ethnic minorities in Britain is arguably more difficult, economically, socially and politically?

This is a very compassionate and provocative portrait of multicultural urban England.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Book Club read, 16 April 2013
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This review is from: Beauty (Paperback)
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. it prompted much discussion at my book group though there were people who disliked it. I bought the copy on Amazon to keep and to pass on to friends and family. Growing up in Bradford, I found it particularly enlightening.
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Beauty
Beauty by Raphael Selbourne (Paperback - 1 Sep 2009)
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