It is difficult to right a proper synopsis of this book. Like White Teeth, Smith's first novel it is an explosion of characters whose lives intertwine. Where White Teeth was a more comedic effort, this is more of a traditional tale.
Howard Belsey is an academic working at the fictional Wellington College. He is a middle-aged white Englishman, with a Black wife. Kiki is a strong fiercely independent Liberal like her husband. Howard although a popular figure in the racially diverse town in which he lives is not without his prejudices. He has an inability to accept his eldest sons Christian beliefs.
Montague Kipps- Howard's arch-nemesis in the academic world is a Trinidadian born Brit living with his submissive wife in North London with their two grown up-children. He is arrogant, conservative and believes that handouts are for the weak, and people should strive to achieve. His large personality, and arrogance, squashes the character that we never get to see in Carlene his wife. Where Kiki Belsey is strong, Carlene Kipps is weak.
The story begins with the ill-fated romance between Jerome Belsey, and Victoria Kipps. This starts a number of affairs, crushes, and relationships between the families and the further cast of well-written characters. Although many of these affairs etc are short, their impact on the lives of the characters is immense.
It is a story of love, and lust as well as the dominant theme of beauty throughout the novel. There is fat vs. thin. Old vs. young. Black vs. white and strong vs. weak.
My only slight niggle with the book is the length, I found it a little on the long side and I found my attention drifting towards the end of the book.