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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On Beauty

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father:

To: HowardBelsey@fas.Wellington.edu

From: Jeromeabroad@easymail.com

Date: 5 November


Hey, Dad – basically I’m just going to keep on keeping on with these mails – I’m no longer expecting you to reply, but I’m still hoping you will, if that makes sense.

Well, I’m really enjoying everything. I work in Monty Kipps’s own office (did you know that he’s actually Sir Monty??), which is in the Green Park area. It’s me and a Cornish girl called Emily. She’s cool. There’re also three more yank interns downstairs (one from Boston!), so I feel pretty much at home. I’m a kind of an intern with the duties of a PA – organizing lunches, filing, talking to people on the phone, that sort of thing. Monty’s work is much more than just the academic stuff: he’s involved with the Race Commission, and he has Church charities in Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti, etc. – he keeps me really busy. Because it’s such a small set-up, I get to work closely with him – and of course I’m living with the family now, which is like being completely integrated into something new. Ah, the family. You didn’t respond, so I’m imagining your reaction (not too hard to imagine . . .). The truth is, it was really just the most convenient option at the time. And they were totally kind to offer – I was being evicted from the ‘bedsit’ place in Marylebone. The Kippses aren’t under any obligation to me, but they asked and I accepted – gratefully. I’ve been in their place a week now, and still no mention of any rent, which should tell you something. I know you want me to tell you it’s a nightmare, but I can’t – I love living here. It’s a different universe. The house is just wow – early Victorian, a ‘terrace’ – unassuming-looking outside but massive inside – but there’s still a kind of humility that really appeals to me – almost everything white, and a lot of handmade things, and quilts and dark wood shelves and cornices and this four-storey staircase – and in the whole place there’s only one television, which is in the basement anyway, just so Monty can keep abreast of news stuff, and some of the things he does on the television – but that’s it. I think of it as the negativized image of our house sometimes . . . It’s in this bit of North London called ‘Kilburn’, which sounds bucolic, but boy oh boy is not bucolic in the least, except for this street we live on off the ‘high road’, and it’s suddenly like you can’t hear a thing and you can just sit in the yard in the shadow of this huge tree – eighty feet tall and ivy-ed all up the trunk . . . reading and feeling like you’re in a novel . . . Fall’s different here – much less intense and trees balder earlier – everything more melancholy somehow.

The family are another thing again – they deserve more space and time than I have right now (I’m writing this on my lunch hour). But, in brief: one boy, Michael, nice, sporty. A little dull, I guess. You’d think he was, anyway. He’s a business guy – exactly what business I haven’t been able to figure out. And he’s huge! He’s got two inches on you, at least. They’re all big in that athletic, Caribbean way. He must be 6ft 5. There’s also a very tall and beautiful daughter, Victoria, who I’ve seen only in photos (she’s inter-railing in Europe), but she’s coming back for a while on Friday, I think. Monty’s wife, Carlene – perfect. She’s not from Trinidad, though – it’s a small island, St something or other – I’m not sure. I didn’t hear it very well the first time she mentioned it, and now it’s like it’s too late to ask. She’s always trying to fatten me up – she feeds me constantly. The rest of the family talk about sports and God and politics, and Carlene floats above it all like a kind of angel – and she’s helping me with prayer. She really knows how to pray – and it’s very cool to be able to pray without someone in your family coming into the room and (a) passing wind (b) shouting (c) analysing the ‘phoney metaphysics’ of prayer (d) singing loudly (e) laughing.

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

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