This novel did for culture and race what I felt The Line of Beauty by Hollinghurst did for class and socio-economic status. Smith's sophomore novel is pure genius, and this novel is incredibly loaded with issues and questions. The prose is so pointed and loaded with intent; all descriptive details shape the irony and emotive force behind her elegantly crafted family, the Belseys.
Alongside the ongoing racial dialogue exists the mesmerizing family drama. Certainly the existential crisis suffered by Howard (father) spurns most of the issues, but the entire cast's constant bickering about white vs. black, rich vs. poor, liberal vs. conservative forces each character to grab hold of what they covet most and attempt to establish an individual identity untouched by the dynamic issues that have made them all so troubled. They all get taken out of their elements and forced to reexamine, and by the end of the novel you feel that perhaps this family can find some strength and integrity.
Again, this novel is loaded with intellectual dialogue and major social issues; it's ironic and sarcastic about so many notions and stereotypes. The beauty for me was in the honesty. All the characters had their flaws, but in the Belseys at least you could empathize. The argument between Kiki and Howard in the middle of the novel broke my heart, it was so realistic. I had to put my book down and look at my husband; I could see so much of our own lovers' quarrels in that dialogue, just enhanced by Howard's horrible betrayal. It was painfully realistic and simultaneously, brilliantly analysed. Then again, so was the entire novel. A must read.
On Beauty, Zadie Smith