On Beauty by Zadie Smith - review by D J Taylor

D J Taylor

Faculty Blues

On Beauty


Hamish Hamilton 446pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Since her last appearance before the critics, with 2002’s The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith has, in no particular order, been to America, hung out with the McSweeney’s crowd, introduced a terrible collection of contemporary Americana (Zadie Smith Introduces ‘The Burned Children of America’), got married, and had rather a lot to say on the subject of Vladimir Nabokov. Much of this may be inferred from her new novel, which is, among other topics, about marriage, the black American experience, family life and the nature of art, and has perhaps the worst title that anyone ever devised for a book since Norman Mailer’s Of Women and Their Elegance.

At the same time, and rather dwarfing these preoccupations, given the current state of international body politics, On Beauty taps into an almost moribund tradition of English writing which one had yearned to see resuscitated. The book’s real subject, in fact, is the limits of liberalism, the extent to which

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