On Beauty

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

Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters.

On Beauty is an every-day-of-the-life story of the Belsey family. Mother, father, two sons and a daughter in an university town. As the father is white, the mother black and the children (therefore) mixed, daily life involves judgment against skin colour as well. Especially Levi, the youngest son, spends a lot of thought (and action) on his place in society and how his skin colour influences it.

In this daily life there are troubles at the university, affairs, trying to create friendships and children who can’t find their spot in society. ¬†There is no apocalypse, no aliens. Only, almost paralysing painful, human daily life.

This takes some getting used to. The only way the story moves is through time and character depth. Some of the characters keep making the same mistakes, and they are human and threedimensional enough to get under your skin. Don’t read this for an adventure, read this to get to meet new people.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2006

Submarine

It is Sunday morning.

I put this book back into the library stands for ..I think three times. I’m still unsure if I liked it, mainly because the protagonist is a bit of a brat. Yes, his life is turning on his axis, but he always manages to make him the center of (other people’s) problems. Maybe I didn’t like it, but I did enjoy it.

Oliver is a bit of a drifter, but likes to think he can influence everything and everyone around him. His parents’ marriage looks a bit in trouble, so he intervenes. His girlfriend is suffering, so he changes his attitude, giving her something to be distracted by. A co-student is bullied and even though he belongs to the pack of bullies, he writes her a pamphlet on how not to be a victim any more. It’s very possibly not out of spite, but he only creates bigger messes – and afterwards doesn’t seem to understand where it went wrong.

Oliver is also very definitely a recognizable teenager. There is a thin line between big ideas, big thoughts and plans and the unsure reality of growing up. And the line is being crossed regularly, which doesn’t help nor provide any answers. Sometimes he’s delusional in a sweet way, sometimes you want to sit him down and scream at him. And sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh.

Submarine, Joe Dunthorne, Hamilton 2008

NW

The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.

A story about those that want to be more than where they came from and fight for it, and about those that slip into the rut that their ancestors have created for them. Not a history story, but contemporary London.

Keisha (later Natalie) and Leah are the main characters, you’re a fly on the wall at several situations, back and forth through the ages. There is a third character, sandwiched between their story lines, but – with me – he failed to stay upright in the fight for sticking around in my mind. Which is kind of fitting, because he fails to stay upright in life as well.
Keisha is the first in her family to get a thorough education, she wants different surroundings but becomes disappointed when these things don’t bring her pure happiness either.
Leah goes through the paces until she realizes they lead her to a place she doesn’t want to be. To a person she possibly doesn’t want to be.

NW can well be considered as a social commentary, but without any high horses or Loud Messages. These people are the commentary and the part that are commented on. Are they less for having no goals or wanting to escape their backgrounds? Is NW a cesspool or just another place where people try to make a living?

Sometimes the language, the people and the hopelessness of it all frustrated me. But for anyone who looks a peek beneath the hood of “our Western culture” I’d recommend this book.

NW, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2012

Gods Without Men

In the time when the animals were men, Coyote was living in a certain place.

The flap text gave me the idea that this novel would be about and around the same place, the characters connected in some, yet undisclosed, way.
Instead this book was a collection of short stories about and around the same place, through time and with most of the characters connected in a random way. It took me a while to adjust to that difference. Especially because I’m not a fan of collected stories.

The one big plus Gods Without Men has (there are others, including making the ordinary creepy and interesting) is the way it offers visuals and accompanying atmosphere. I was there in that desolate, forgotten-by-the-world place in the desert, felt how heavy its surroundings pressed on the characters.
Another plus are the characters, all trying to escape a side from their selves they want to forget, loose, reshape.

It was not an easy read, almost 400 pages taking 10 days. There is little joy on it, and yet the story lingers when you close the book, the characters giving you room to look at your own life and ideas.

Gods Without Men, Hari Kunzru, Hamilton 2011