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
“[NW] is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.” —Anne Enright, The New York Times Book Review
“A triumph . . . As Smith threads together her characters' inner and outer worlds, every sentence sings.” —The Guardian
“A powerful portrait of class and identity in multicultural London.” —Entertainment Weekly
Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragicomic novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. In private houses and public parks, at work and at play, these Londoners inhabit 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. Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to city-dwellers everywhere—NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Even as longtime fans of Zadie Smith's seriocomic, multicultural stories of London, we were blown away by the emotional richness and complex artistry of this novel. Named for the downtrodden area that connects its characters, NW spends long, intimate stretches exploring everyday lives that feel compellingly real. Smith reveals her characters—like Leah, who’s clawed her way to the middle class but remains permanently uneasy, or Felix, who’s just kicked drugs but still finds ways to sabotage himself—through brilliant, nonlinear fragments. Their interrupted thoughts and half-finished conversations somehow fit together perfectly.
In the hands of Smith, Northwest London the postcode area that gives her fourth novel its title is more than just a setting: told in shifting perspectives of its lifelong residents, NW becomes a character in its own right. Working class, downtrodden, with an undercurrent of hopelessness and violence, this borough of London is home to Leah, Felix, Natalie, and Nathan, Smith's four focal characters, each one facing a conflict of identity. So many of the societal and class differences in NW are shown through nuances of voice, diction, and accent. And in this audio edition, narrators Don Gilet and Karen Bryson excel, capturing the subtleties of the many fluid dialectics in Northwest London spoken by immigrants and natives alike. The strong performances of and seamless interplay between Gilet and Bryson deftly capture the gritty day-to-day life of NW. A Penguin hardcover.
I found the author’s voice a very unusual style that was hard for me to follow.
Smith is a masterful storyteller. Her novels never fail to consume me--the kind of books you are eager to fill any empty time with. NW has a forward momentum that also folds in beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking, moments of insight about how we are continually coming into ourselves, how we implicate and hurt others in the process, and how connected we really are even when it feels otherwise. Read NW, White Teeth, and On Beauty--each will pull you completely in, resonate & leave their own distinct mark long after the final page.
Bits and Pieces
The voices of the book are so strong. Readers may benefit from some familiarity with London and English slang, which this traveler does not have yet. I think the book hit its stride through the short chapters as Keisha became Natalie. Something about it didn't quite grab me, and I think it telling that it took me several months to finish. I made it though and am glad for it.