Smith, Zadie

(Book - 2012)
Average Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
Penguin Putnam
New York Times Ten Best Books of 2012

?A boldly Joycean appropriation, fortunately not so difficult of entry as its great model? Like Zadie Smith’s much-acclaimed predecessor White Teeth (2000), NW is an urban epic.” --Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

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, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation?

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan ? as they 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.

Depicting the modern urban zone ? familiar to town-dwellers everywhere ? Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.

Baker & Taylor
Growing up in the same 1970s urban planning development in Northwest London, four young people pursue independent and reasonably successful lives until one of them is abruptly drawn out of her isolation by a stranger who is seeking her help.

& Taylor

Growing up in the same 1970s urban planning development in Northwest London, four young people pursue independent and reasonably successful lives until one of them is abruptly drawn out of her isolation by a stranger who is seeking her help. By the author of On Beauty. (This book was previously listed in Forecast.)

Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781594203978
Branch Call Number: FIC S
Characteristics: 401 p. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Jan 05, 2015
  • PaulaBlix rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

I'd previously read Smith's "The Autograph Man" and quite disliked it so was not looking forward to having to read "NW" for my book group. The first section bore that out - quite disliked it - but the ensuing two sections turned out to be much better and those main characters were more engrossing. So, overall, I would have to say that I liked the book *okay* - I would maybe give it a grade of 65%.
- Paula

Zadie Smith's latest novel does demand focused attention. It feels more like three somewhat linked novellas than a coherent whole. As both critics and readers have pointed out, the narrative feels disjointed and very elliptical, demanding that the reader be alert and fill in the many seeming blanks. The novel sketches four characters who all live in Northwest London (hence the title) but it's really the lifelong friendship between two female characters that's the core of the book. Leah Hanwell is an earnest, adventurous white woman and Keisha/Natalie Blake is a straitlaced, repressed woman of Jamaican descent. The novel traces their close childhood bond and then their slow drifting apart as they get older. Leah ends up working in the modest housing project where they grew up and marries a lightskinned black man who works as a hairdresser. Keisha studies hard and becomes a barrister and changes her name to the more upscale Natalie, to suit her new upper middle class lifestyle, complete with a beautiful & wealthy mixed-race husband and a large house. Though the two women occupy different places in the class structure--Leah is just barely in the middle class while Natalie is well-entrenched in its far upper reaches--both feel adrift in the world and go about expressing that sense of dislocation differently. Leah turns in on herself and devotes all her emotional attention to her dog while Natalie engages in sordid assignations arranged online. The novel excels in showing how a part of each woman's spirit is broken with each passing year, not through a defining or traumatic event but simply in the course of living life with its cruelties and unexpected turns. Each woman has a loving (and at least outwardly attentive) husband yet there's a hollowness in each marriage, the incremental, unspoken chasm that develops over time between people who live together. Smith's short staccato sentences and fragmentary, non-linear storytelling requires the reader to pay lots of attention and put two and two together because the author doesn't. There's hardly any authorial exposition at all, but there are a lot of outstanding sentences--hilarious cultural commentary, deeply insightful asides, compelling internal monologues, memorable sketches of peripheral characters. But the arrangement of all of these elements together feels unsatisfying and 'choppy'. Unfortunately one gets the feeling that NW's whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Oct 04, 2014
  • eeyore7299 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I didn't read all of the comments, but from what I can gather, the low rating of this book by many is due to its lack of "traditional" narrative form. What a shame! I am a writer myself, and like to push the boundaries and this book was inspiring to me. I love how she created texture with these disparate aspects and styles throughout the book. There were weaker moments, but overall, that feeling of disjointedness worked very well to illustrate the characters and their disconnection from themselves and where they were from. Her use of language and description were genius, especially early on. I could go on and on and on. I was so absorbed by most of the book I had a hard time putting it down. I wish everyone could have had that experience, because it really is a master work, even if there are some hiccups in places. I love artists who push on the edges, who move art forward. We need different thinkers and innovative narrative, not just the traditional.

May 16, 2014
  • uncommonreader rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is Zadie Smith's most interesting book since "White Teeth". It narrates the stories of four people from a housing estate in NW London, with each written in a different style. A somewhat experimental, post-modern book that seems authentic.

Nov 12, 2013
  • stkim0 rated this: 0.5 stars out of 5.

I was a little over 100 pages into it, and I thought to myself, "What the heck am I reading?"

I couldn't answer that question. 100 pages, and this was going nowhere. Wherever this may have gone, I don't care anymore. Even what I did manage to finish was a struggle.

Oct 18, 2013
  • jtkretzschmar rated this: 0.5 stars out of 5.

I really didn't enjoy this book. I found the writing style lazy, confusing and disjointed. I generally really like books with this premise, but this particular novel I would not recommend.

Jun 21, 2013
  • nherzog rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Not sure if I quite got what this book is about or trying to express. It was sometimes a bit hard to follow. I've read other Zadie Smith books that I liked much, much better, that were more of a narrative, with a more coherent plot. This one's a bit too fragmented and tentative for my taste. Still, I stuck with it, finished it; she's still an inspiring writer, just prefer a more traditional narrative style.

Mar 13, 2013
  • rosenyny rated this: 1.5 stars out of 5.

I tried really hard to enjoy this book, reading over the first 100 pages but there was essentially no plot to get engaged in. While the writing style in this section of the book is quite unique, it takes a genuine effort to follow the dialog. Unfortunately, I didn't feel very rewarded with for my "sticktoitiveness." I, therefore, abandoned this book. I've heard great things about her other books and they are not written in the same style and are very plot driven so perhaps I will enjoy those.

Mar 09, 2013
  • toby65 rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I so enjoyed 'White teeth' and 'On beauty'. This was not as satisfying. Fine writing but I guess I prefer a more traditional form. I don't think the various clips and lists added anything - quite the opposite. Still, it is Zadie Smith, and much better than most contemporary writers.

I'm pretty much obsessed with Zadie Smith's writing. Met her at the Barnes and Noble Arboretum back in 2005, maybe 2006. I'm having a hard time finishing this book as I only find the characters' stories and conversations half interestng. I will pick it up again someday. In the meantime, Smith has written a terrific
short story, which appears in the New Yorker, "The Embassy of Cambodia." Great character study of Fatou, a nanny with many curiosities. Now, I hope that Fatou becomes the protagonist is Smith's next novel.

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