On Beauty - Zadie Smith Having never read Howards End I’m sure I missed most of the parallels Zadie Smith was trying to achieve with On Beauty. But I could appreciate her discerning take on personal relationships. Smith follows the dynamic of a self-conscious liberal household in an upper middle-class East Coast university town. The story revolves loosely around the friction within the family and between families. Structurally, the story meanders around various conflicts that never seem to materialize into the confrontation expected. However, I was not disappointed.

It’s a beautifully written book. Smith’s ability to turn a phrase and her gentle, but nonetheless scathing, dissection of the pretensions and motives of the Belsey family suggests a worldliness one would not expect from an author in her late 20’s. Though, at times, the insinuations articulated behind most of the conversations between the characters sometimes seem too deliberate to be genuine, the voices each character develops are distinct and complicated. Though some reviewers had difficulty getting past Smith’s attempt at writing regional slang and colloquialisms, it didn’t really strike me as distracting. Her willingness to avoid cliché characterizations and allowing each member their hypocrisy and self-delusions creates a complex, but honestly resonating, collage.

Ultimately, I don’t want to spoil what’s best about this book; Smith ends the book with subtle grace that satisfies despite the lack of a real story arc. The passages about Howard’s relationship with art gives On Beauty it’s more obvious metaphors, but it fittingly reduces his confused character to his most sympathetic nature.