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NW (2012)

by Zadie Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,061916,001 (3.5)200
"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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English (86)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (90)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Well written character study, but the story doesn't go anywhere. There were some devices that play with form that I enjoyed, but it felt hollow in the middle. It might have worked better culled and presented as slightly connected short stories. Better than 'On Beauty', but certainly no 'White Teeth' ( )
  SamanthaD-KR | Jun 10, 2021 |
Interesting mesh of styles and structure, but sometimes feels too contrived for it to truly sing. Smith is similar to Adichie in that her greatest strength is social observation / describing the micro dynamics and tension of human interaction. Unfortunately, she sacrifices opportunities to do this more often with excessive focus on stylistic and structural experimentation that falls flat. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
I think this book is Zadie Smith's way of dealing with mortality, which is to say it's a very erudite, emotionally complex, formally inventive take on the issue.

The book is split between different perspectives, each with its own formal conceits and tone. The fun is the interplay between these, the way time compresses and overlaps, and choices have consequences that radiate outward jaggedly. This isn't your magnolia/love actually/slacker characters cross paths and fates diverge and mingle thing--it goes deeper. It's not even a pulp fiction/imitations of pulp fiction non linear interlocking deal where the story emerges bit by bit across many crossing timelines. It's more of a high modernist faulknerian thing, where subjective experience is recreated in prose, and perspective is fluid and time compresses and expands, except here the subject is time itself and persons across time. Did I mention time? What I'm trying to say is weird shit happens with time in this book.

Oh yeah and the characters are extremely well drawn and there's a whole lot of class and race politics in the fold and marriage and motherhood and technology find themselves under the microscope.

The Natalie section is one of the best things I've ever read. Her section forms the structural and emotional core of the book. Her search for a constant identity and the slow erosion of the person she once was is devastating to witness. Her tale is told in vignettes that act like guideposts along the timeline of her life, sometimes narrowing in and viewing a single incident from 3 to 4 perspectives, sometimes covering years in a single stroke. All of the pathos of the Nathan section that immediately follows was built in Natalie's journey. He doesn't get a chapter, and his chastisement of Natalie is one of the best 11th hour character reveals I've read.

This is the work of someone who has lost the faith. The voice is far from the certainty of White Teeth. It has more of the ambivalence and empathy of her nonfiction, without the occasional both-sides fallacies.

Reminds me of Light in August and In Our Time. Oh and I caught a Joyce reference but have never read him (thank you, jeopardy)....

Anyway, the more I read, the more I liked it. This is a novelist at the height of her powers. Definitely has me hooked for at least one more novel. ( )
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
Smith's style took a little getting-used-to at first for me but this quickly developed into something really excellent. I've lost track of how many *~*literary novels*~* I've read this year but this has got to be the best of them. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
Didn't love this one, though maybe I just didn't get it. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
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.
 

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Zadieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gray318Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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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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Wikipedia in English (1)

"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.

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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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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