Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on June 23, 2019
This is the first book I have read by Zadie Smith. I enjoyed listening to her on NPR and was looking forward to reading her work. I think I picked the wrong book for me. I did not care for the characters or the story, but the writing is excellent, so I will give her another go. This book is described as “hilarious” which I think is an exaggeration. It is mildly amusing and certainly spot-on in the portrayal of how hyper-sensitive we have become to political correctness, particularly on college campuses.
The story is about the families of Belsey and Kipps. Dr. Howard Belsey is a white British man who teaches art history at tony Wellington College. He married an African American woman from Florida, who is a nurse. They have three bi-racial children, two in college and one in high school. Howard’s nemesis is Dr. Monty Kipps, who resides in England with his all African American family, including a wife and two young adult children. Tension between the families continue to mount as the children meet and the family members intermingle. To Howard’s great humiliation, Monty is invited to be a visiting professor at Wellington and moves his family into town. Things are not going well at work or at home for Howard and his marriage is in jeopardy. Somehow, he manages to screw up even more in both areas. Affairs, crushes, and misunderstandings abound on campus and at home for both families.
I gave this book three stars because I did not like any of the characters, with the exception of Kiki Belsey, Howard’s wife. Aspects of the plot were enjoyable. Overall I thought that the book was too long and had too many subplots, though the subplots were at least related to the main themes. The portrayal of political and social life on the college campus was one of the better parts of the book. I think that anyone who has worked on a campus will find this funny and accurate. My favorite scene was when the Belsey’s daughter, a student as Wellington, petitions the dean to get into a class after the professor refuses to admit her. In arguing her case, she implies discrimination and invokes the term “inappropriate” thus sending the dean into a fit of near apoplexy. Game, set, and match to Ms. Belsey! There are some stellar sections in this book, just not enough of them.