on beauty by zadie smith
decided to check out this book after looking up the orange prize shortlist and saw that shriver's we need to talk about kevin didn't come out a winner
compared to we need to talk about kevin... on beauty involves less 'navel gazing' and lets the story guide itself. also despite the story's setting on cultural and academic environment, it sounds much less academic to me b/c the amount of drama surrounding the academic circle overshadows everything else. but it also seems deliberate to me that zadie smith wants this to be read more by people with interests rather than a learned cognition in cultural and academic sides and how us democratic system has allowed education to benefit those who are unfamiliar with academics and how the characters try to retain, fight, or extinguish it.
i liked both almost equally, narrative style-wise; in kevin the thought processes are really what make up the story more than the occurrences themselves, i think... that is why the film adaptation tried to strip bare all the elements and is considered experimental because not much is finally left to be said (not like much is needed, anyway).
also race as a topic is definitely prevalent throughout the book...one of the main themes if not really is the primary one (i think it's not really though). the protagonist siblings are of mixed descent--their father a white professor (howard), their mom a black housewife (kiki). the mom's genes are prevalent in all the children's skin tone, causing confusion and fascination to strangers, and it is the book's job to lay on the ground how each of them deal with their atypicality. Levi, for example, the youngest, seems to be trying to assure himself of his identity--that he is a whole black man, and hence expends effort on succumbing to the stereotypes of a black man: uneducated and 'street'
family matters are what i think take the center stage throughout the novel. re the howard's and kiki's marriage: how opportunities present themselves and make them realize that what they think of yourself--capable of firm will, is just really a self-deception. no matter how good enough they think they are in terms of commitment if they are unlucky it will be put to test. when they think the commitment they are bound to is the wishy washy one if opportunities never show up it could get sturdier as they pick things up along the line... surely it tells something about someone if the mentioned opportunities ever intervene but it is unfair to judge it solely on the cases because not all people get the same opportunities capable of relationship havoc...
about the title, the book also touches the topic of beauty. a quote that i quite liked
This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn’t be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman’s magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki’s knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies — it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.i felt a little put off by some of the dramas presented in the book, for example when victoria, the freshman dime, shows sexual interest in howard, it feels like the story is going to play the same old "hey i am attractive but look i am very interested in you who is truly part of common folk consider how lucky you are" scenario...not very fascinating to me.
the book talks about religion and liberal/conservative views as well, how liberal view has become the new cliche, and how intolerant an dull the view adopters can become. like the unified notion that having a religion is the opposite of common sense (i get how religion can look like a delicious object of ridicule, but in this reverse case where the child is religious and the parents are not, it takes a lot for the parents, the free thinkers, who are expected to be more understanding than the supposedly religious folk, to accept that what they themselves believe may not hold true for some people.)
the dialogues in the book are really good, clever in a way reminiscent of super sad true love story. they move the story at a comfortable pace, seems like almost no dialogue is wasted
on beauty definitely ranks high in my book but i still think we need to talk about kevin deserves the orange prize. i think kevin represents some modern women's woes on raising a child...how the line on gender roles have blurred in some parental situations, and thoughts on being a female itself without being too hey i am such a feminist kind of explicit.
on the other hand on beauty features a good quote on feminism too
I myself have never been able to figure out what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I say things that differentiate me from a doormat.