October 2005

Arts & Letters

‘On Beauty’ by Zadie Smith

By Zora Simic

Howard and Kiki Besley are the fraught couple at the centre of Zadie Smith’s new novel. Claire Malcolm, poet and interloper in their 30-year marriage, tries to make sense of them: “He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.” On Beauty is too populated with vivid characters, contradictory ideas, transitory emotional states and hard-won truths to succumb to the didactic potential of its title. What we get instead is an amusing and poignant novel in which Smith stakes a formidable claim for fiction as the best form of capturing life’s messiness.

In doing so she acknowledges a clear debt to E.M. Forster – and to Howard’s End in particular. But it would be a mistake to describe this book as an exercise in homage. As she proved in White Teeth, Smith is fascinated with the contemporary moment and its polyglot possibilities. As much as the eternal questions (what is love, what is art, what is family) preoccupy her, so do the current ones, beginning with the relevance of the university. As a campus novel based around a fictional elite uni – Wellington, a casually disguised Harvard – On Beauty makes for good, acerbic fun. Smith swoops in and out of classrooms, faculty meetings and frat parties with a keen sense of the ridiculous. After the hit-and-miss detour that was The Autograph Man, she has produced a stunning novel that is exactly the sum of its finely rendered parts.

Cover: October 2005

October 2005

From the front page

Image of artist Noŋgirrŋa Marawili painting ‘Baratjala’

Coming forth like the first light: Tarnanthi 2019

This South Australian festival celebrates the rich diversity of contemporary Indigenous art

Hartzer must go

Westpac stands universally condemned and the CEO has to take responsibility

Image of Steve Kilbey

The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

Illustration

Bait and switch

Lumping dingoes in with “wild dogs” means the native animals are being deliberately culled


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Evolution baby

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Sundays in paradise

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The dishwasher unstacker

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The people vs Woolworths


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Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

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A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

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Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

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The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

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‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

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‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

Image of artist Noŋgirrŋa Marawili painting ‘Baratjala’

Coming forth like the first light: Tarnanthi 2019

This South Australian festival celebrates the rich diversity of contemporary Indigenous art

Image of Steve Kilbey

The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man


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