I bought a book yesterday. On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, who I had never heard of until that moment. I began reading it today with an open mind and much hope of a good novel. Frankly, I’m disappointed.
After a little research, I’m somewhat daunted to have the (perhaps uninformed) opinion of the book and her writing. She is: a) a British writer (I foolishly worship the British. It’s their accents); b) 3 years older than me (this proves that I’m lazy. On Beauty is her third book. How many books do I have? None.); c) she’s a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University; d) when I Google her name, there are 1.35 million results (compared to the paltry 85 when I Google my name).
So, how can I find her writing so crappy when Harvard adores her enough to bring her into their flock? With all the acclaim, how can I think she sucks? I don’t know. That’s the point. I’m confused.
Let me explain why I think the book is so terrible.
1) In the opening scenes, after the emails from the oldest son of this family, there is some kind of secret argument going on between the husband and wife. Or perhaps it’s not secret and I’m just daft. What happens is that the reader (me) can’t really tell it’s an argument because there are lots of metaphors and conversations. Smith seems to be attempting to capture the familiarity and intuitive way a family works. She does a lot of describing of the small, unimportant details (or, I would think they’re unimportant), like every single action a character engages in while speaking.
At one point the mother, Kiki, has been arguing with her husband and starts talking to the younger son. Suddenly she bends at the hips. The author is about to launch into a description of how Kiki is retying her head-dress. But the structure of the sentences in the paragraph is incredibly awkward. Maybe I’m wrong but we read one sentence at a time. You can’t just cut stuff off. In the middle of an idea. It’s uncomfortable to read. How she bends at the hips. Then tips her head forward and releases her hair. Personally, it would have been smoother to combine those ideas, so the reader isn’t left with this image of Kiki bending at the hips for no good reason.
Plus Kiki and Howard (the husband), are immediately at incredible odds with each other. Suddenly Kiki is asking Howard why he’s displaying so much animosity towards the family. And we, as readers, have no idea where her indignation at Howard has come from.
Or, it could just be me. Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know why Kiki was angrily throwing stuff into her bag out of the blue and saying things to Howard in short, clipped sentences.
So far, the only thing beautiful about this book is the cover, which is indeed classy.
[see part 2]