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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees


On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

As a modern adaptation of Howards End, for which I only gave 2 stars, I surprisingly liked this a little better than the original. The plot and characters aren't exact parallels—there are feuding families here too, the Belseys and the Kippses, but the main story focuses on the interracial Belsey family and their internal conflicts, while the Kippses are merely supporting players.

One of my problems with Forster's original was that I felt the larger themes within the book overshadow the characters themselves, but that is not the case with this. Smith's characters are well-developed and rise above the themes (racial, cultural, political) that they represent, although not all of them are likeable. Father Howard Belsey has a sorry excuse for a middle-age crisis, daughter Zora hides her insecurities by being an unbearably opinionated know-it-all, and youngest son Levi searches for a true identity by faking his accent and pretending he was raised in the streets instead of in a well-educated middle class suburban home. I only sympathized with mother Kiki, the big woman with a bigger heart, and earnest eldest son Jerome.

While the story interested me and some parts are quite funny, I dreaded getting an unsatisfactory conclusion similar to the original and was ready to deduct a star in case that happens. I would've thrown this book in disgust if, for instance, Kiki forgives Howard for his first infidelity and never finds out about his second. Luckily Howard gets the ending that he deserves (Howard's end—get it?) though a bit messy and mostly vague, but that's how real life can be.