Excerpt from On Beauty by Zadie Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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On Beauty

by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith X
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 464 pages
    Aug 2006, 464 pages

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Print Excerpt

Love and peace in abundance,

Jerome xxxxx

P.S. in answer to your ‘polite query’, yes, I am still one . . . despite your evident contempt I’m feeling quite fine about it, thanks . . . twenty is really not that late among young people these days, especially if they’ve decided to make their fellowship with Christ. It was weird that you asked, because I did walk through Hyde Park yesterday and thought of you losing yours to someone you had never met before and never would again. And no, I wasn’t tempted to repeat the incident . . .

To: HowardBelsey@fas.Wellington.edu

From: Jeromeabroad@easymail.com

Date: 19 November


Dear Dr Belsey!

I have no idea how you’re going to take this one! But we’re in love! The Kipps girl and me! I’m going to ask her to marry me, Dad! And I think she’ll say yes!!! Are you digging on these exclamation marks!!!! Her name’s Victoria but everyone calls her Vee. She’s amazing, gorgeous, brilliant. I’m asking her ‘officially’ this evening, but I wanted to tell you first. It’s come over us like the Song of Solomon, and there’s no way to explain it apart from as a kind of mutual revelation. She just arrived here last week – sounds crazy but it true!!!! Seriously: I’m happy. Please take two Valium and ask Mom to mail me ASAP. I’ve got no credit left on this phone and don’t like to use theirs. Jxx

‘What, Howard? What am I looking at, exactly?’ Howard Belsey directed his American wife, Kiki Simmonds, to the relevant section of the e-mail he had printed out. She put her elbows either side of the piece of paper and lowered her head as she always did when concentrating on small type. Howard moved away to the other side of their kitchen-diner to attend to a singing kettle. There was only this one high note – the rest was silence. Their only daughter, Zora, sat on a stool with her back to the room, her earphones on, looking up reverentially at the television. Levi, the youngest boy, stood beside his father in front of the kitchen cabinets. And now the two of them began to choreograph a breakfast in speechless harmony: passing the box of cereal from one to the other, exchanging implements, filling their bowls and sharing milk from a pink china jug with a sun-yellow rim. The house was south facing. Light struck the double glass doors that led to the garden, filtering through the arch that split the kitchen. It rested softly upon the still life of Kiki at the breakfast table, motionless, reading. A dark red Portuguese earthenware bowl faced her, piled high with apples. At this hour the light extended itself even further, beyond the breakfast table, through the hall, to the lesser of their two living rooms. Here a bookshelf filled with their oldest paperbacks kept company with a suede beanbag and an ottoman upon which Murdoch, their dachshund, lay collapsed in a sunbeam.

‘Is this for real?’ asked Kiki, but got no reply. Levi was slicing strawberries, rinsing them and plopping them into two cereal bowls. It was Howard’s job to catch their frowzy heads for the trash. Just as they were finishing up this operation, Kiki turned the papers face down on the table, removed her hands from her temples and laughed quietly.

‘Is something funny?’ asked Howard, moving to the breakfast bar and resting his elbows on its top. In response, Kiki’s face resolved itself into impassive blackness. It was this sphinx-like expression that sometimes induced their American friends to imagine a more exotic provenance for her than she actually possessed. In fact she was from simple Florida country stock.

Excerpted from On Beauty, (c) 2005 Zadie Smith. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved.

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