Top positive review
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On Beauty: on balance, pretty good.
on 3 September 2006
This book is chiefly about two very different families and the way they interact.
But interwoven through this are meditations on different kinds of beauty: music, art, poetry, inner beauty and the skin-deep variety. Beauty has a disruptive power - it can be used as a kind of weapon - and this is shown in particular by the havoc caused by V, a beautiful young black woman whose strict Christian upbringing does not hold her back from enjoying the social and sexual advantages of beauty and youth.
It is ironic that this book was written by a young author whose own beauty has provoked a ludicrous level of media attention. This is probably unwelcome to ZS, and also unfair to other equally talented, less photogenic novelists.
As someone who struggles painfully between Christian faith and agnosticism, I also appreciated and admired ZS's handling of faith matters. I've not read any other novel that reflects so well my own experience of living in a contradictory, philosophically untenable yet tolerant society of believers, non-believers and don't-carers.
The debate between liberalism and conservatism in the novel is also very interesting. Maybe it's more relevant to American readers, but I think also important for British readers too.
I didn't give it 5 stars (and would probably really give it 3.5) because sometimes the author's art did not always conceal her artfulness. The episode of Levi Belsey proposing direct action at the megastore where he works, for example, seemed staged just to bring about the conflict between two black so-called 'brothers' from different sides of the class-divide. Also, ZS may have been trying to put a message across about the plight of Haitian people, but in the novel I just wasn't interested. And Jerome was a little underdrawn.
Finally, but most importantly, I thought the novel's spell began to wear off towards the end, and I grew slightly impatient for the whole thing just to be tied up. But this was partly because I hadn't been able to put the book down; and the closing scene is excellent. Overall, the book is very well written.
I actually heard ZS read from her novel at a book festival, and she gamely put on American, English, Nigerian and Jamaican accents to great effect. A novel well suited to be an audio book.
Reader, F, 31.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." - Keats