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NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith

NW: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Zadie Smith

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1,292686,064 (3.49)170
Title:NW: A Novel
Authors:Zadie Smith
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 416 pages
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NW by Zadie Smith (2012)


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English (62)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (67)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
The story of two thirty-something women, Leah and Natalie (formerly Keisha) who grew up in the NW6 area of London. This novel is very disjointed, requires concentration by the reader, and has little plot, but I loved it. Great voice, highly original, paints a vivid picture of this section of London life.


I wrote that two days ago. I'm still thinking about this novel and how much I enjoyed it, even though at times I didn't understand it. I really want to go out and read something else by Zadie Smith.

If you're hesitating about reading this, I say that you give it a chance. I can see it's not for everyone, but maybe, like me, it's awesome for you. ( )
1 vote Nickelini | Jul 20, 2016 |
Here's another book that I picked up with interest, only to quickly abandon for some other title that held more promise, only to pick up again with good intentions, only to drop again, and again, again. Finally, it clicked and fit my reading mind. While overall I didn't find it completely satisfying, it had a most interesting style and certainly depicted the world of this section of London wonderfully. I can never say it enough, one never knows when it's time for a book, and you just can't force it. ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 18, 2016 |
feb 2013
  MatkaBoska | Jun 15, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote RandyMetcalfe | Feb 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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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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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