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On Beauty


The point of Zadie (Smith) is looks.. ahem, books, says the Guardian, in a profile titled (disconcertingly enough) Learning curve.

Apparently, Zadie woke up one day, and On Beauty was there, fully formed in her head. (If you are interested in this kind of thing, you should probably know that I wake up most days with More Sleep on my mind. It's just not that fully formed yet, but maybe by the next Booker longlist.) The profile is written by Aida Edemariam, with a lot of help from Hari Kunzru, who contributed “the point of Zadie” line. Flippancy apart, it is a good profile that discusses her influences, inspirations(“I'm so easily influenced. I read somebody, and then I just write their book again”), and beliefs. And yes looks too.

Talking about Zadie's (obvious) good looks, Kunzru describes the seeming disconnect between her anger at discussions of attire as “another way to belittle women” and the pleasure she derives from “being able to play a movie star” as an “odd contradiction between tradition and flamboyance”

[…] and yet, says Kunzru, “Zadie does turn up in public looking fabulous.” She knows a ‘worrying amount' about old Hollywood, and I think the pleasure she takes out of being a public novelist is being able to play a movie star. It's a piece of fun.” She's an “odd contradiction between privacy and flamboyance,” and has, he thinks, “become a phenomenon despite herself”.

Zadie is full of grace and humility, describing herself as “a beginner, an apprentice”, an old fashioned moralist who believes that the novel is an “ethical enterprise,” a life simulator if you will.

On Beauty is also a sustained attempt to enact ideas she's been mulling over for a few years: that the novel – writing a novel, reading a novel – is an ethical enterprise, a practice place for morals where we watch, in safety, people choosing what they must do, and what they lose when they choose wrongly; that it is the closest possible rehearsal for the real thing, which is the most important thing of all. “Good writing requires – demands – good being,” she wrote a couple of years ago, introducing a collection of short stories, The Burned Children of America. “I'm absolutely adamant on this point.”

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Learning curve

Update: The Observer's review of On Beauty is up here, and it is very, very complimentary – calling it “exceptionally accomplished” and “wonderfully funny.”