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NW

[a Novel]

Smith, Zadie

(Book - 2012)
Average Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
NW
Print
"Four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan - try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end."--From publisher's information.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781594203978
1594203970
Branch Call Number: FICTION SMITH 2012
Characteristics: 401 p. ;,25 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

Growing up in the same 1970s urban planning development in Northwest London, four young people pursue independent and reasonably successful lives until one of them is abruptly drawn out of her isolation by a stranger who is seeking her help.


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Zadie Smith's latest novel does demand focused attention. It feels more like three somewhat linked novellas than a coherent whole. As both critics and readers have pointed out, the narrative feels disjointed and very elliptical, demanding that the reader be alert and fill in the many seeming blanks. The novel sketches four characters who all live in Northwest London (hence the title) but it's really the lifelong friendship between two female characters that's the core of the book. Leah Hanwell is an earnest, adventurous white woman and Keisha/Natalie Blake is a straitlaced, repressed woman of Jamaican descent. The novel traces their close childhood bond and then their slow drifting apart as they get older. Leah ends up working in the modest housing project where they grew up and marries a lightskinned black man who works as a hairdresser. Keisha studies hard and becomes a barrister and changes her name to the more upscale Natalie, to suit her new upper middle class lifestyle, complete with a beautiful & wealthy mixed-race husband and a large house. Though the two women occupy different places in the class structure--Leah is just barely in the middle class while Natalie is well-entrenched in its far upper reaches--both feel adrift in the world and go about expressing that sense of dislocation differently. Leah turns in on herself and devotes all her emotional attention to her dog while Natalie engages in sordid assignations arranged online. The novel excels in showing how a part of each woman's spirit is broken with each passing year, not through a defining or traumatic event but simply in the course of living life with its cruelties and unexpected turns. Each woman has a loving (and at least outwardly attentive) husband yet there's a hollowness in each marriage, the incremental, unspoken chasm that develops over time between people who live together. Smith's short staccato sentences and fragmentary, non-linear storytelling requires the reader to pay lots of attention and put two and two together because the author doesn't. There's hardly any authorial exposition at all, but there are a lot of outstanding sentences--hilarious cultural commentary, deeply insightful asides, compelling internal monologues, memorable sketches of peripheral characters. But the arrangement of all of these elements together feels unsatisfying and 'choppy'. Unfortunately one gets the feeling that NW's whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Jun 21, 2013
  • nherzog rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Not sure if I quite got what this book is about or trying to express. It was sometimes a bit hard to follow. I've read other Zadie Smith books that I liked much, much better, that were more of a narrative, with a more coherent plot. This one's a bit too fragmented and tentative for my taste. Still, I stuck with it, finished it; she's still an inspiring writer, just prefer a more traditional narrative style.

Mar 13, 2013
  • rosenyny rated this: 1.5 stars out of 5.

I tried really hard to enjoy this book, reading over the first 100 pages but there was essentially no plot to get engaged in. While the writing style in this section of the book is quite unique, it takes a genuine effort to follow the dialog. Unfortunately, I didn't feel very rewarded with for my "sticktoitiveness." I, therefore, abandoned this book. I've heard great things about her other books and they are not written in the same style and are very plot driven so perhaps I will enjoy those.

I'm pretty much obsessed with Zadie Smith's writing. Met her at the Barnes and Noble Arboretum back in 2005, maybe 2006. I'm having a hard time finishing this book as I only find the characters' stories and conversations half interestng. I will pick it up again someday. In the meantime, Smith has written a terrific
short story, which appears in the New Yorker, "The Embassy of Cambodia." Great character study of Fatou, a nanny with many curiosities. Now, I hope that Fatou becomes the protagonist is Smith's next novel.

Feb 10, 2013
  • MelissaBee rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

In "NW," Sadie Smith continues to mature as a novelist.

Her writing here is fresher and more experimental than the two other titles I am familiar with, "White Teeth" and "On Beauty." Again she deftly tackles the challenges found at the intersections of race, class, family, and couple relationships through rich language and the development of immensely interesting and empathetic characters. In "NW" though, she moves away from the nosier and more external action of these other novels. While still capturing the voice of the streets with rhythm and immediacy, she deepens and quiets the internal dialogue, enriching the readers experience of how we speak within ourselves when we wonder at our connection to others.

Jan 14, 2013
  • JCLMELODYK rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

I was so looking forward to NW after enjoying the audio version of On Beauty. NW left me confused though. The jacket summary says the book is about four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan. I don't even recall Felix, where the heck was he? Nathan came and went briefly. In the opening of Chapter 2 a young woman is introduced with such thrust that I'm convinced she will play some important part in the story but that fizzles out with no resolution. Did I completely miss something. After Natalie's voice took over the story, I enjoyed it but overall the experience just confused me.

Dec 19, 2012
  • tegan rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

NW, well what can I say - it is not a typical Zadie Smith book. This book is broken into a few different sections, each with a very different writing style. My favourite was the Keisha/Natalie section. I found it interesting how Smith provided snippets of story in a dis-jointed way. The first section though, the 'Leah section', is quite confusing. It is hard to tell who is speaking and to be honest the storyline of that section is a bit annoying. I think that the Natalie section makes this book worth the read, but I didn't enjoy the other sections that much. I found Felix's behaviour to be despicable. Don't expect a Zadie Smith book when you read this book, or else you will probably be disappointed.

Nov 18, 2012
  • vickiz rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

NW is not Zadie Smith's best. However, it shows a writer at her finest and bravest exploring diverse terrain and experimenting with different methods and vocabularies with which to present those explorations. That makes Smith's examination of intersecting worlds and lives in the northwest corner of contemporary London a still fascinating if sometimes frustrating read.

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