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NW: A Novel Paperback – August 27, 2013
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“[NW] is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.” —Anne Enright, The New York Times Book Review
"Endlessly fascinating . . . remarkable. . . . The impression of Smith's casual brilliance is what constantly surprises, the way she tosses off insights about parenting and work that you've felt in some nebulous way but never been able to articulate.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“A marvelously accomplished work, perhaps her most polished yet.” —Laura Miller, Salon
“A triumph . . . As Smith threads together her characters' inner and outer worlds, every sentence sings.” —The Guardian
“Smith's fiction has never been this deadly, direct, or economical . . . Where gifts are concerned, Smith is generous with hers; she writes, one feels, with our pleasure in mind . . . NW is Zadie Smith’s riskiest, meanest, most political and deeply felt book—but it all feels so effortless. She dazzles.” —Parul Sehgal, Bookforum
“NW offers a nuanced, disturbing exploration of the boundaries, some porous, some impenetrable, between people living cheek by jowl in urban centers where the widening gap between haves and have-nots has created chasms into which we're all in danger of falling.” —NPR.org
“A powerful portrait of class and identity in multicultural London.” —Entertainment Weekly
“One of the most interesting portrayals of 30-something womanhood that I've come across in a long time. For other readers, Smith's brilliant eye and idiosyncratic ear should be ample enticement.” —Bloomberg News
“A master class in freestyle fiction writing. Smith mashes up voices and vignettes, poetry and instant messaging, bedroom preferences and murder, and keeps it all from collapsing into incoherent mush with deft, dry wit. Smith defines characters worth reading.” —Newsday
“Smith's masterful ability to suspend all these bits and parts in the amber which is London refracts light, history, and the humane beauty of seeing everything at once.” —Publishers Weekly
“In NW, Smith offers a robust novel bursting with life: a timely exploration of money, morals, class and authenticity that asks if we are ever truly the sole authors of our own fate.” —BookPage
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 27, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143123939
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143123934
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.48 x 0.89 x 8.36 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #114,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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After a few weeks, I decided to re-read the book and found it even more interesting the second time through. Seemingly insignificant details at the beginning of the book revealed themselves when read again with knowledge of how the story develops. I found that another enriching experience is to read the book with Google maps handy. Typing in streets or locations mentioned in the book brings up the real places where these imagined scenes take place. Towards the end of the book Natalie and Nathan walk across the city and it is fascinating to trace their route and see some of the landmarks mentioned, such as the flower shop next to Kilburn station (flanked by an Italian Restaurant, not Chinese take-out) and the bridge where Natalie looks out over South London.
Again, a rewarding read.
The plot seems to act as the backdrop to the novel. It's not linear, clear, or perhaps even all that relevant. The characters, by contrast, are very well developed and the observations of society, class and race are astute. The writing style is unorthodox, which makes for an interesting read overall but feels lazy at points. Certain sections remind me of the shortcuts I would take on writing assignments in school, where I hoped that my lack of full paragraphs would translate as creativity. I dug around a little for the author's take on why she chose her style(s) and found this in a New Yorker blog:
"...there is the simple time restraint of having a kid. Four hours a day is as much as I had. I didn't have the time or inclination for sixty-page chapters. The idea of writing at any great length became absurd."
That's not very satisfying.
There were several other elements of the novel that I found unsatisfying at first, although the more I think about them the more they make sense. I was, for example, frustrated by Shar and Leah's plot line, wondering why it was included at all. After considering it for a few days, however, I've decided that without Shar we wouldn't fully understand Leah. Such is the case with many of the other seemingly tangential characters, and the sometimes vast amount of space devoted to each of their stories is not wasted.
This novel gets better for me the longer it sets in. I think it may end up being a favorite, but I would recommend that potential readers, especially fans of White Teeth and On Beauty, adjust their expectations before delving in.
Top reviews from other countries
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?
It's a book to read when you can give it more than ten minutes so that you can get into the mood and follow the storyline. It's not my world at all and it isn't the sort of book I would normally choose, but it is a highly intelligent, entertaining and clever piece of writing that paints a very real picture of a community. It's outside my comfort zone, and maybe many other people's - a very good thing to be bounced into reading something quite different. Recommended.