On Beauty by Zadie Smith


The novel opens with a series of e-mails Jerome writes to his father Howard Belsey. Jerome is in London, working for Monty Kipps and living with his family. The problem for Howard is that Monty is his academic rival. They both teach art history, both are specialized on Rembrandt, only Monty published his book, while Howard still struggles with his. Another problem is Jerome turning to Christianity, which Howard as a liberal doesn’t approve. Monty on the other hand supports traditional values, which appeal to Jerome. With the approaching school year Monty and his family arrive to Wellington university where Howard teaches. Howard’s wife Kiki befriends Monty’s wife Carlene, Jerome returns to university in another town to avoid Monty’s beautiful daughter Victoria, he was in live with while being in London. The lives of both families intertwine, despite their different values and life.

I quite liked this book. At first I found it slow paced, but it didn’t bother me. I think it’s written in a way to support a slow pace. However, near the end the pace picks up, certain events sort of turn everything upside down. I liked that. If it stayed the same till the end, the book might be less satisfying. 

On Beauty explores different themes, like race, identity, class and beauty. Howard’s youngest son Levi tries to find his black identity by hanging out with “guys from the hood” and in a way distancing himself from his privileged family of a British university professor. His daughter Zora follows her academic ambitions. Among other things she advocates the case of talented people who are not students to have the right to attend classes at Wellington, which they couldn’t afford due to their poor background. Beauty is explored in various ways. There’s physical beauty shown as opposites in beautiful young Victoria and Kiki who has managed to gain weight with age, or beauty of a friendship between two very different women. And there’s beauty in art, which is viewed differently by different people: a painting can be appreciated for its worth or for what it symbolises to a person. I loved the ending when (in my view) the beauty of a woman distances itself from mere appearance and merges with art. Howard is giving a lecture at the art gallery, Kiki is in the audience. He shows Rembrandt’s painting Hendrickje Bathing, but says nothing, just looks at her. “He smiled at her. She smiled. She looked away but she smiled. Howard looked back at the woman on the wall, Rembrandt’s love, Hendrickje.”

*

Knjiga se začne s serijo elektronskih sporočil, ki jih Jeorme piše Očetu Howardu Belseyu. Jerome je v Londonu, kjer dela za Montyja Kippsa, živi pa kar pri njem, z njegovo družino. To samo po sebi ne bi bila težava, če Monty ne bi bil Howardov tekmec v akademskih vodah. Oba sta profesorja umetnostne zgodovine, specialnost obeh je Rembrandt. Monty je objavil knjigo o Rembrandtu, medtem ko je Howard ni in nič ne kaže, da jo bo sploh kdaj. Druga težava je v tem, da je Jeorme sprejel krščanstvo, kar pa Howard kot liberalec ne odobrava najbolje. Montyjeva družina ceni tradicionalne vrednote, kar Jeromu ustreza. V prihajajočem študijskem letu, Monty z družino prispe v Wellington, kjer Howard uči na tamkajšnji univerzi in kjer bo učil tudi Monty. Howardova žena Kiki se spoprijatelji z Montijevo ženo Carlene. Jerome se vrne na univerzo v drugem kraju, kjer študira, da bi se izognil Victoriji, lepi Montyjevi hčeri, v katero se je zaljubil v Londonu. Življenja obeh družin se prepletejo, ne glede na različnosti v življenjski vrednotah. 

Knjiga mi je bila všeč, ne glede na to, da se mi je od začetka zdelo, da dogajanje teče počasi. Po svoje se mi zdi, da je napisana na način, ki podpira počasno dogajanje. Proti koncu se tempo dvigne, nekateri dogodki pa vse skupaj obrnejo na glavo. Ravno to mi je bilo všeč. Če bi ostalo enako umirjeno do konca, naboj zgodbe niti približno ne bi bil enak.

O lepoti raziskuje različne teme, od rase, pripadnosti razredu in identitete pa do lepote. Howardov najmlajši sin Levi skuša najti svojo črnsko identiteto in se druži s »fanti iz soseščine«, revnejšimi od sebe in se na nek način oddalji od svoje privilegirane družine srednjega razreda. Hči Zora zasleduje svoje akademske ambicije. Med drugimi se bori za to, da bi talentirani ljudje, ki niso študentje imeli pravico obiskovati predavanja na univerzi, česar si sicer zaradi svojega socialnega položaja ne bi mogli privoščiti. Lepoto pa avtorica obravnava v različnih oblikah. Beremo o lepoti v smislu videza, ki ga zaznamo kot nasprotje med lepo in mlado Victorio in starejšo Kiki, ki se je z leti zredila, ali pa o lepoti prijateljstva med dvema zelo različnima ženskama. In seveda o lepoti v umetnosti, ki jo različni ljudje vidijo različno. Umetniško sliko na primer lahko cenimo zaradi njene vrednosti ali pa zaradi tega, kar motiv v sliki simbolizira. Posebno mi je bil všeč konec, ko se (v mojem videnju) lepota ženske oddalji od samega videza in se združi z umetnostjo. Howard ima v galeriji predavanje, ki ga posluša tudi Kiki. Na zadnji prosojnici je slika, ki predstavlja Rembrandtovo veliko ljubezen Hendrickje pri kopeli. Videti je, da je bila, ne glede na vse pretrese, ki sta jih doživela, izbrana ravno zaradi Kiki.


Komentarji

Priljubljene objave iz tega spletnega dnevnika

Unciala, okvirji in omejitve

Gotske refleksije

La Biennale di Venezia - Viva Arte Viva