It’s funny because there’s a moment in one of Zadie Smith’s essays in Feel Free where she knocks Iris Murdoch a little as being one of those stodgy British writers she had to read in school. And in a similar moment Iris Murdoch makes a similar list in this book. All of that may be true…that’s she’s stodgy, that British kids have to read her (which they shouldn’t have to….she’s for older folks) and all that. But Zadie Smith wrote an Iris Murdoch novel in this one.
In this novel we have two different mixed race families, or more to the point mixed culture families. Both are academic, both are involved in the politics of race and class in academia. Both are involved in male mid-life crises and childhood dramas.
It all starts with Jerome, son of Howard and Kiki Belsey, going off to London for a summer research internship under the tutelage of Monty Kipps, Conservative professor. Jerome gets involved with Victoria, they fall in love, maybe get engaged, and it all blows up.
Some months later Monty and crew have come to Boston for a sabbatical in the US at Wellington, Howard’s place of business. The wives become friends, the children stay apart, and the early 2000s anti-Affirmative Action movements coalesce on the campus. All of this also involves scenes concerning authentic Blackness, not so authentic Blackness, sex, marriage, death, and the interplay of all these different topics on the scene of this one college. It’s a funny book, and if you like Zadie Smith you will like this.