Whitley Bay Book Group: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

What a lovely start to our first session back after the summer break – not only do we welcome three newcomers, Craig, Dot and Fran, but we welcome back Rebecca after a long absence too!

Zadie Smith’s On Beauty proved to be a real Marmite book, with most members either really liking, or really disliking it.  Our star ratings ranged from 1s to 4.5s and came out at 2.5 out of 5.

Even those who were less enamoured of it mostly still thought it was beautifully written though, and its fans enjoyed a strong, engaging narrative, warm and vivid descriptions, and the interactions between the characters.  The characters of Kiki, Jerome, Levi and Carl were singled out as being the most interesting or engaging.

The sheer number of characters, however, was a common complaint amongst those who disliked the book, as well as the fact that so few of them (if any, for some) were likeable, and several members felt it was simply much too long.

It was a thought provoking read, and did give us plenty to talk about.  Some found the issues raised unsettling, particularly those relating to race.  We also talked about the artificiality of the academic world it portrayed, summed up at the end in a moving part where it seemed that Howard, who had devoted so much of his life to a study of Rembrandt, was, when faced with his paintings, apparently no longer able to see the beauty in them.  We also talked about the different layers and meanings of beauty in the book, and the fact that it seemed that Carl was the only character who was genuinely talented, and able to appreciate true beauty.

Next month our book, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, ties in with an author event at the Durham Book Festival a few days before our meeting.  Further details can be found here:  Members booking tickets over the phone should mention they are part of a NWN Book Group to qualify for reduced tickets prices.  Copies of the book can also be bought from the NWN website for £6.50 + £1 p&p: