On Beauty

I knew Frank Rich was a great political columnist. Turns out he might be a pretty decent literary critic as well. He has an essay on On Beauty.

Smith is after so much in "On Beauty" that, as with "White Teeth," not quite all of it comes together at the end. And sometimes in the later pages the stage management is all too visible, as in a climactic scene in which a political demonstration in the Wellington streets brushes against a particularly tawdry extramarital assignation for diagrammatic effect. Nor does every character have the weight of the Belseys; they intermingle with some cartoons. In her failings as in her strengths, Smith often seems more reminiscent of the sprawling 19th-century comic novelists who preceded Forster than her idol himself.

But that’s not always the case. What finally makes "On Beauty" affecting as well as comic is Smith’s own earnest enactment of Forster’s dictum to "only connect" her passions with the prose of the world as she finds it. For all the petty politics, domestic battles and cheesy adulteries of "On Beauty," she never loses her own serious moral compass or forsakes her pursuit of the transcendent.

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Well long before Rich was a political columnist with the Times, he was the Michiko of theatre reviewing. So really, he’s a literary critic that moved to political punditry (which is why his column was for so long in the Arts and Leisure section…)

Frank Rich takes an excellent shot at Zadie Smith’s intent as an author, something very few book reviewers attempt, let alone succeed at.

Rich has got to be one of the most incisive columnists out there. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s equally astute when it comes to books.

Richard: That’s interesting. I wonder if there’s any connection between his literary/arts background and the fact that he’s one of a very small number of poli pundits worth reading regularly.

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