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NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith

NW: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Zadie Smith

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904519,757 (3.54)146
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 (48)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Read abut half, found it uninteresting.
  dgooler | Jul 1, 2014 |
SCRATCH THAT : For me, NW started off as one of the greatest novels written about 21st century London life. Ended up a shoddy mess. Feel like Zadie wrote several short stories and mushed them together. However,
I can see where she's coming from but not sure where she's going. Ironically, a bit like Natalie Blake...

AFTERTHOUGHT : I loved it. Smith celebrates the multiplicity and strength of the black female as clearly shown through Keisha /Natalie Blake. ( )
  nikkihall | Jun 9, 2014 |
Umphh.. Just read the end, put the book down, and I feel fatigued!!

Definitely, this is the triumph of structure over content. And not in a good, "just on the right line" way. Content is absolutely smashed to a pulp and disintegrated, by Alexander the Great, the Emperor of All Worlds: The Structure. In fact, I'd venture to say that the book is a beautiful empty box. The author spent so much time working on the box and the wrapping, that she forgot she actually had a flipping novel to write! A story that is worth telling! Content, juice, meat, anyfing.... there's just none of that here, innit?

Now, I do have a certain admiration for the structural acrobatics that Zadie Smith used in NW. It reminded me of some musicians who at a certain point go "balls out" and dare to try a completely different thing, with the hope that they will either be recognized as geniuses, because they actually invented something new, or at least they will inspire some change. A daring feat, experimental, almost like watching a new circus number.

All this formal sophistication might very well distract readers, like a magic trick, from the fact that this is a very cold and very dark book. What matters to me, especially with fiction books, is that pulsating core that exists at the center of each novel. In NW, we are given dark charachters with despair in their hearts, cold people with cold personalities and thoughts. And how accurately Smith portrays the absolute faithless, godless approach to life of Londoners. All this, with no plot whatsoever. Like a graphic novel that consists only of disjointed black and white sketches of miserable people. To use some teen language: I know, right? Ugh!

No wonder many reviewers on this site were left almost doubting their own intellectual skills. I read a few "I don't know if I'm not sophisticated enough to understand this novel, but...", and "I'm not sure what I just read". You see what you did, Zadie?

Not only, as I mentioned above, there is no plot at all, but also what IS actually there, in between the ink somersaults, I found boring and unpleasant. I thought Jonathan Franzen was the undisputed master at generating the most annoying fictional charachters, but no, Zadie Smith was able to defeat him. The incomplete, envious and frustrated Leah. The cold, arrogant, cheating Natalie. Personal taste, maybe, but I wouldn't like to spend 30 seconds with any of these two.

And what happens to Shar, the girl, who shows up at the beginning, promising intriguing developments? Like many other elements in this novel, she is lingering at the sides of the destroyed railway that is this story, with nothing to do, no traction to provide.

Finally, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this bit from a review on "The Guardian":

"The whole of the first section is defined by its resistance to genre, by what it doesn't want to be. It's like an oddly shaped inner-city park, bounded not only by chick-lit and thriller but by the modernism it aspires to. The touches of dilute Joycean play are less like new ways of looking at the world than mildly adventurous ways of organising a narrative. [ ] The whole book is oddly queasy about the value of getting on in the world."

... and with the article's conclusion:

"The real mistery of NW is that it falls so far short of being a successful novel, though it contains the makings of three or four". ( )
  tabascofromgudreads | Apr 19, 2014 |
Een boeiend en lastig te beschrijven boek. In eerste instantie is er weinig van te gebruiken, ook door het af en toe haast intuïtieve taalgebruik. Naarmate het boek vordert, wordt het steeds interessanter. Het beschrijft het leven van vier mensen in Noord-West Londen die elkaar redelijk goed kennen. Ik vond de verhalen van de vrouwen (Leah en Keisha / Natalie) meer boeien dan de kortere verhalen van de mannen. Felix wordt wel goed gekarakteriseerd; Nathan komt eigenlijk vooral uit de verf door de ogen van anderen.
Een boek om nog eens te lezen, na een paar jaar, om meer verbanden te zien en te begrijpen. Wel een topper! ( )
  elsmvst | Jan 7, 2014 |
The story, set in the Willesden area of north west London, follows the lives of a selection of the residents of a council housing estate as they grow from childhood to adults. Over the years, they go their separate ways but later come back together, mainly through their families who haven’t left the estate. They never seem quite satisfied with their achievements, always striving for something just outside their reach.
Zadie Smith has created a cast of realistic characters with a variety of strengths and flaws, however I could not find them as engaging or sympathetic as some that have featured in her previous books. Consequently, I felt this to be one of her less compelling novels.
  camharlow | Dec 19, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (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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