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NW by Zadie Smith
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NW (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Zadie Smith

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1,222656,525 (3.5)159
Member:kidzdoc
Title:NW
Authors:Zadie Smith
Info:Hamish Hamilton (2012), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:British literature, London, multicultural London

Work details

NW by Zadie Smith (2012)

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English (59)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
A very good writer but a novel that's all over the place although very good in parts. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
Writing as vibrant and complex and irreducible as the city it evokes and the characters it follows. This is truly remarkable work. The kind of novel you read and wish you had read years ago.

Leah Hanwell and Keisha (now Natalie) Blake have been best friends since childhood. They are bound together through fate and accident. And while the novel sometimes follows Leah and sometimes Natalie, the real object here is the milieu in which they grew up, London’s northwest quadrant — poor, ethnically and racially mixed, burdened by crime and drugs, but suffused with hope.

Zadie Smith has a good ear for dialect and dialogue and the local idioms that arise and depart. So the years pass seamlessly and the reader always feels in touch with the real. The narrative takes different forms, including a long section of brief numbered segments that move Keisha from precocious youth to work in the Inner Temple as a pupil barrister, by which time she is known as Natalie. Leah is less fully explored but perhaps rightly since Keisha/Natalie is more difficult as a character. It is hard for even Natalie herself to get past her own defences. Little wonder then that Smith needs to approach her obliquely. And when we do get through, it may be hard to accept what we find. Yet, I think that makes Natalie all the more believable.

Smith brings real affection for her characters and their mix of unrequited hopes and self-critique. I could easily, having just finished reading the novel, sit down and read it again immediately safe in the knowledge that I would undoubtedly pick up far more on a second or a third reading. Highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Feb 25, 2016 |
A novel praised as highly as Zadie Smith’s NW surely has to be good. It’s evocatively told in the voices of believable Londoners, replete with natural intonation and convincing expression. But it’s a slow story and not an easy read, especially not to ears unattuned to the characters.

For me, NW came to life as I started the third section, where Keisha/Natalie gives a stream-of-consciousness depiction of her experiences, vividly filled with fascinating short asides. Suddenly events and characters from the earlier parts seemed more believable and relatable. Keisha/Natalie drives her fiercely awkward way into a world that never quite seems to accept her, from a world that never quite seemed to understand, and the conflict between building and tearing down makes the short sections of her writing truly haunting.

In other parts of the book, the author employs different writing styles, chosen perhaps to suit the characters. For Leah, there’s a fractured image of changing fonts and pagination. For Felix, long paragraphs drive home the point. But for Keisha... I’m not sure if it’s the smoother reading and white space on the page, or if she’s truly an easier character to relate to, but it’s certainly her section that drew me in.

I didn’t love this novel, but I was definitely intrigued by it, and it’s well worth the read.

Disclosure: London’s not my part of England, and it feels very foreign to me now. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Jan 21, 2016 |
As a Londoner this book struck a chord in me and after reading a few of the reviews slating it, I feel the desire to explain why. This isn't my type of literature, far from it, but I found myself drawn in. Zadie Smith has captured the language and dialect of several generations, to the point that I was transported back 14 years to high school. I remember people using terms like "long" and "blud", I remember people like the characters of NW.

The reason for the low rating is that while the novel was compelling, as mentioned it was not my cup of tea. But mostly it was incredibly depressing. Is that what we all have to look forward to in adult hood? Or is that just the vision of those who do not dream of something else, something better? ( )
  jadedlioness | Dec 29, 2015 |
Read an excerpt of this in the New Yorker. It's insanely good. This struck me as eerily accurate, looking back on my own childhood friendships:

"It had never occurred to Keisha Blake that her friend Leah Hanwell was in possession of a particular type of personality. As with most children, theirs was a relationship based on verbs, not nouns. Leah Hanwell was a person willing and available to do a variety of things that Keisha Blake was willing and available to do."

Just brilliant. Can't wait.
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Smith’s previous novels have been exuberantly plotted, and were resolved in a highly “novelistic” way. This book is much more tentative and touching in its conclusions. In an essay called “Two Paths for the Novel,” Smith has challenged what she calls the unexamined credos upon which realism is built: “the transcendent importance of form, the incantatory power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity of the self.” None of these things make sense on the streets of northwest London. “NW” represents a deliberate undoing; an unpacking of Smith’s abundant narrative gifts to find a deeper truth, audacious and painful as that truth may be. The result is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.
 
Half sentences, fragments, broken syntax and line, dialect, sometimes no punctuation. The linear narrative under reconstruction, jackhammer to the fourth wall of fiction, the suspension bridge of disbelief like the London Bridge of the nursery rhyme, falling down. Busting the glass ceilings....Nobody is going to accuse Smith of being straitlaced or staid, of pandering to her huge audience or of writing a “perfect” novel. Instead, Smith seems to be out to undo the conventional novel. Do the narrative hijinks pay off? Smith derails the reader from the worn ruts of what to expect, provokes surprise. She tests the support beams of plot, knocking them down when she can....Lisa Moore’s stage adaptation of her novel, February, premieres at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6.
 
At these times and others it’s hard to shake the sense that all the experimentation is more fun for the author than illuminating for the reader. Why exactly, for example, are those vignettes numbered? And what’s the significance of the number 184? The mere asking of such questions is an annoyance, taking up energy that would be better spent savouring the novel’s strengths...Here, then, is a tricky case. This reviewer finds himself in the strange position of calling NW one of his favourite books of the year, yet being unable to recommend it wholeheartedly. Like John Lanchester’s Capital, another recent novel that sought to capture the ever-shifting essence of today’s London between two covers, NW proffers a rich and varied banquet yet leaves the reader’s hunger ultimately unsatisfied.

 
As a writer, Smith finally seems perfectly at ease: less like she’s trying to please and more like she’s delighting in her jaw-dropping mastery of language and dialect. This is, hands down, her best novel to date.
 
The trailing plot threads aren't exactly tied off, more tucked back in. The real mystery of NW is that it falls so far short of being a successful novel, though it contains the makings of three or four.
 
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Epigraph
When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

John Ball
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For Kellas
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The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
This is the story of a city. The northwest corner of a city. Here you'll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between. Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds. And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell's door, seeking help .......
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"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.… (more)

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