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In this audiobook review, we take a closer look at Zadie Smith’s acclaimed novel, “On Beauty.” Specifically, we examine how the book translates to the audio format, analyzing its narrative structure, character development, themes, and overall impact. By the end of this review, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of whether “On Beauty” is worth adding to your audiobook collection.

Key Takeaways:

  • “On Beauty” is a critically acclaimed novel by Zadie Smith.
  • Our review focuses specifically on the audiobook version of the novel.
  • We evaluate the audiobook’s performance, narrative structure, character development, themes, and production quality.
  • The review concludes with our overall evaluation and recommendations for those considering the audiobook version of “On Beauty.”

Overview of ‘On Beauty’

Set in the fictional town of Wellington, Massachusetts, Zadie Smith’s ‘On Beauty’ is a novel that explores the intricacies of family dynamics, race, identity, and academia. The story revolves around two families, the Belseys and the Kipps, whose lives become entangled through a series of conflicts and events.

The central theme of the novel is the exploration of beauty through multiple perspectives, touching upon themes of art, appearance, and character. As the characters navigate their interpersonal relationships and strive to define their identities, the setting plays an important role, reflecting the tensions and complexities of contemporary society.

Throughout the novel, Smith employs a narrative structure that weaves together various plot points and characters’ perspectives, building towards a dramatic climax that challenges the reader’s preconceptions of the story. The novel’s strong character development allows readers to engage with the personalities and complexities of each character, drawing them deeper into the story.

The Major Plot Points

SPOILER ALERT! The major plot points of the novel include:

  • Howard Belsey clashes with Monty Kipps over his conservative views and academic work.
  • Jerome Belsey befriends Kipps’s daughter, Victoria, and enters into a secret relationship with her.
  • Carlene Kipps hires Kiki Belsey as her personal assistant, leading to an unexpected bonding moment between the two families.
  • Events at the Belsey house party culminate in a shocking confrontation between the characters, leading to significant revelations and consequences.

Audiobook Performance

audiobook performance

When it comes to the audiobook performance of “On Beauty,” the narrator’s ability to bring the characters to life is paramount. The narration quality can either enhance or detract from the listener’s experience, impacting the overall effectiveness of the audiobook.

The narrator of “On Beauty” is Poppy Miller, a British actress with extensive experience in theater, television, and film. Miller’s voice acting in the audiobook is noteworthy for its clarity, tonality, and ability to capture the essence of the characters.

Miller does an excellent job of portraying the characters’ emotions, giving subtle nuances to their speech patterns and accents. Her delivery is natural, engaging, and easy to follow, making it simple to differentiate between the various characters in the story.

Narrator Delivery Emotions Character Portrayal
Poppy Miller Natural and Engaging Excellent Accented and Nuanced

The table above presents the narrator’s performance in “On Beauty,” highlighting her strengths in delivery, emotional capture, and character portrayal. The data clearly emphasizes the effectiveness of Miller in enhancing the audiobook’s overall quality.

Furthermore, Miller’s consistent pacing and tone add to the story’s immersion, allowing for the listener to feel fully immersed in the narrative. The audiobook’s production quality is also noteworthy, with no jarring audio interruptions or sound inconsistencies throughout the book.

Overall, the audiobook performance of “On Beauty” is exceptional, with Poppy Miller’s voice acting bringing the characters to life, making this audio version an excellent medium to experience Smith’s novel.

Narrative Structure and Pacing

When experiencing an audiobook, the narrative structure and pacing take on an even greater significance than when reading a physical book. “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith employs an intricate narrative structure, with flashbacks, non-linear storytelling, and multiple perspectives.

The pacing is deliberately slow and introspective, allowing for the exploration of complex themes through nuanced character development. In the audiobook format, this can prove challenging for listeners who may struggle to keep track of the story’s timeline or feel disengaged by the slower pace.

However, the audiobook format also has benefits, allowing for a more immersive experience where the listener can absorb the story’s intricacies and appreciate the author’s craft. The well-crafted narrative structure and pacing of “On Beauty” remain engaging and thought-provoking in audiobook format.

Character Depth and Development

The character development and depth in “On Beauty” are crucial elements of Zadie Smith’s storytelling. Through the audiobook interpretation, the narrator’s performance plays a vital role in conveying the characters’ complexity and growth.

The protagonist, Howard Belsey, is a flawed and complex character whose academic pursuits and personal life are intertwined. The narrator’s voice brings nuance to Howard’s emotional turmoil, highlighting his insecurities and vulnerabilities. Through the audiobook, listeners can understand Howard’s motivations and personal struggles, making him a more relatable and sympathetic character.

Howard’s wife, Kiki, is also a well-developed character whose story arc centers on her struggle to maintain her identity within her family and community. The audiobook interpretation enhances Kiki’s strength and resilience, emphasizing her values and dedication to her family.

The supporting characters in “On Beauty” also provide a rich tapestry of personality and background. Levi, Howard’s son, is a complex character whose identity struggles are brought to life through the narrator’s performance. In contrast, Zora, Howard’s daughter, is a driven and ambitious character who provides a critic’s voice on academia. The audiobook interpretation captures the sibling rivalries and familial dynamics, bringing depth to their relationships.

Overall, the audiobook interpretation of “On Beauty” provides a rich portrayal of the characters’ personalities and growth throughout the story. The narrator’s performance enhances the understanding of their motivations, emotions, and perspectives, making the audiobook version a compelling way to experience Zadie Smith’s novel.

Themes Explored in ‘On Beauty’

Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” is a rich and layered novel that explores various themes and issues, from identity and beauty to race and family dynamics. Through the audiobook format, the book’s themes are brought to life with vivid detail and thought-provoking commentary.

One significant theme is the exploration of race and identity. Through the narratives of the book’s characters, “On Beauty” examines the complexities of racial identity in contemporary society, challenging readers to confront their biases and assumptions about race and ethnicity.

Another central theme is the idea of beauty and its role in our lives. Beauty is explored not only in a physical sense but also in terms of art, literature, and architecture. “On Beauty” raises questions about the subjectivity of beauty and how it can affect our interactions with the world around us.

Family relationships are also a significant theme in “On Beauty.” Through the family dynamics of the Belseys and the Kipps, the novel delves into the complexities of familial love, loyalty, and conflict.

Finally, “On Beauty” explores academic life and the role of the university in contemporary society. The novel examines the tensions that arise between different academic disciplines and the challenges of navigating the political and ideological debates within the academy.

Themes Explored in “On Beauty”

Themes Description
Race and Identity The exploration of the complexities of racial identity in contemporary society
Beauty The subjectivity of beauty and its role in our lives
Family Relationships The complexities of familial love, loyalty, and conflict
Academic Life The role of the university in contemporary society and navigating political and ideological debates

Impact of Audiobook Experience

audiobook experience

Listening to an audiobook version of “On Beauty” provides a unique and immersive experience that differs from reading the print version. The audiobook format allows readers to engage with the story in a new way, emphasizing the emotional impact of the text.

The level of immersion provided by the audiobook experience is high, as readers are fully immersed in the narrative through the use of sound effects, music, and voice acting. The audiobook allows readers to feel more connected to the characters and the events of the story, which increases the sense of engagement and overall enjoyment.

However, some readers may find that the audiobook format diminishes the impact of certain aspects of the story. For example, some readers may miss the ability to flip back to previous passages or take notes, which could impact their overall comprehension of the story.

Despite these potential drawbacks, the benefits of the audiobook format are considerable. The level of immersion and engagement provided by the audiobook version of “On Beauty” enhances the reader’s overall experience, allowing them to fully appreciate the complex themes and character development found in Zadie Smith’s work.

Pros and Cons of Audiobook Experience

Pros Cons
Increased immersion Diminished ability to take notes or flip back to previous pages
Enhanced emotional impact Impact of sound effects and music can vary between listeners
Increased engagement Less control over pace of reading and overall comprehension

Source: Own elaboration.

Production Quality and Sound Design

When it comes to evaluating the audiobook version of “On Beauty,” assessing the production quality and sound design is crucial. These factors can significantly impact the overall audio experience, contributing to listeners’ immersion and engagement with the story.

The production quality of the audiobook refers to the technical aspects of its creation, such as audio clarity, consistency, and evenness. The sound design pertains to the background effects and music used throughout the audiobook, creating a cohesive audio landscape for the listener.

In “On Beauty,” the production quality and sound design are both expertly executed. The audio clarity is consistent, with the narrator’s voice easily discernible throughout. The sound design complements the story’s themes, using subtle background music to accentuate pivotal scenes while never detracting from the narrator’s performance.

The production quality and sound design of the audiobook for “On Beauty” are not just well-crafted. They effectively enhance the listeners’ immersive experience, contributing to a genuinely enjoyable audio experience.

Comparison to Print Version

While the audiobook version of “On Beauty” offers a unique and immersive experience, some readers may prefer to read the print version instead. Here, we will compare the advantages and disadvantages of each format, examining how they affect the reader’s engagement with the story.

Reader Experience

Listening to the audiobook version of “On Beauty” allows readers to experience the story in a different way, immersing them in the narrative through the narrator’s voice. However, reading the print version provides the reader with complete control over the pace and tone of the story.


Audiobook Print version
Immersion The audiobook provides an immersive experience, allowing the reader to feel more connected to the story and characters through the use of voice acting and sound design. The print version offers a more customizable reading experience, allowing readers to engage with the story at their own pace and tune out distractions more easily.
Comprehension The audiobook can enhance comprehension for readers who struggle with difficult language or pacing, as the narration can clarify and interpret the text. The print version offers the ability to pause, reread, and engage with the text at a deeper level, making it easier to fully grasp complex themes and motifs.
Convenience The audiobook is convenient for those who have limited time or prefer to listen on the go, freeing up hands and eyes for other tasks. The print version can be read anywhere and anytime, allowing for a more traditional reading experience and making it easy to highlight and take notes as needed.

Ultimately, the choice between audiobook and print version of “On Beauty” comes down to personal preference. Readers who prefer an immersive experience with expert narration and sound design may prefer the audiobook, while those who prefer a more customizable and interactive reading experience may prefer the print version.


After a thorough evaluation of the audiobook version of Zadie Smith’s novel, “On Beauty,” we have come to our final thoughts on the audio experience.

The audiobook performance by the narrator was exceptional, bringing each character to life with unique and nuanced voice acting. The pacing and narrative structure allowed the story to unfold in an engaging and immersive way. The depth and development of the characters were effectively conveyed through the audiobook interpretation, and the production quality and sound design were top-notch.

While the audiobook version may not be the ideal format for every reader, we highly recommend it as a valuable and enjoyable alternative to the print version. The audio experience adds a new layer of engagement and entertainment that enhances the story’s impact.

Overall, the “On Beauty” audiobook provides a captivating listening experience that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on readers. It is a must-read, or rather, a must-listen, for fans of Zadie Smith’s work and anyone looking for an extraordinary audiobook experience.

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