NW: A Novel Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Somewhere in Northwest London stands Caldwell housing estate, relic of 70s urban planning. Five identical blocks, deliberately named: Hobbes, Smith, Bentham, Locke, and Russell. If you grew up there, the plan was to get out and get on, to something bigger, better.
Thirty years later, ex-Caldwell kids Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan have all made it out, with varying degrees of succes - whatever that means. Living only streets apart, they occupy separate worlds and navigate an atomized city where few wish to be their neighbor’s keeper. Then, one April afternoon, a stranger comes to Leah’s door seeking help, disturbing the peace, and forcing Leah out of her isolation....
From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, in this delicate, devastating novel of encounters, the main streets hide the back alleys, and taking the high road can sometimes lead to a dead end. Zadie Smith’s NW brilliantly depicts the modern urban zone - familiar to city dwellers everywhere - in a tragicomic novel as mercurial as the city itself.
A 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
One of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2012
One of Time's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2012
One of The Wall Street Journal's Best 10 Fiction Books of 2012
A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of 2012
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 55 minutes|
|Narrator||Karen Bryson, Don Gilet|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 04, 2012|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #65,968 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#842 in Fiction Sagas
#1,419 in Family Life Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#3,031 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
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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.
The centre of the story is undoubtedly london. The author defines and creates London just as it is, which as a Londoner was great to read. London defines each of the characters, their personalities, goals, friends and more and it is ultimately the one consistent aspect to all their lives, despite the unpredictability of what it offers. The passion zadie smith has for London jumps out of the pages and describes it better than any other novelist I have read so far.