I just finished On Beauty and have to say I loved every page of it. I kept looking up from the book as I was reading to tell JRL about something I thought was particularly great. But this afternoon, when I was thinking about blogging about the book, I decided to check out what Amazon had to say about it. YIPES! On Beauty gets a mere three stars out five, considerably less than the typical four to four-and-a-half out of five. Even the book that currently qualifies as The Worst Book I Ever Read (a "cozy" mystery that shall remain nameless) gets a full five.
Why? I was staggered by Smith's ability to fully inhabit so many different characters so convincingly. She can snap a scene into full color with just a sentence or two -- she has a faultless ear for the way people speak and an eye for the detail that makes everything real. Her depiction of a teenager working at a Virgin record store was perfect -- I don't need to get a job there now; I know what it's like. And a scene between a middle-aged Englishman and his elderly father was just as spot-on.
What? Did you say something about plot? Oh, yeah. Well, there was an affair. Hmm... let's see... Okay, so there's not much in the way of a conventional plot. But did I miss it? No, actually; I didn't even notice until I read the Amazon reviews. The constantly shifting relationships between the characters kept me riveted. Zadie Smith is very, very smart (I don't even want to think about how much younger than me she is) and it was just a pleasure to spend some time in her mind.
I don't know whether to despair at the book's relatively low Amazon rating or to just shrug my shoulders -- after all, according to the tenets of popularity McDonald's is a great restaurant, and anyway, it's not like On Beauty didn't win about 9,000 awards.
But won't that low score prevent some people from buying the book? It will, and that's a shame.