REVIEW: NW by Zadie Smith

The contents of this novel are certainly just as colourful as the front cover. Important, mainly because said cover was one of two reasons why I bought it – the second reason was that it had Zadie Smith’s name on it.

I always felt that Smith was one of the authors whose work I should read, but until a week ago I hadn’t, mainly due to a tightening of the purse-strings. If I’m to buy a book full-price (a rare occurrence indeed, nowadays), it’s got to be ‘I want to rip my heart out and present it as a token of my love good’. Smith was on the radar, so when this (and On Beauty) cropped up in a charity shop, I took full advantage of the excuse that ‘I was on holiday so treated myself’.

I wouldn’t call ten books a ‘treat’, I’d call it Christmas for the next five years. I digress.

After reading NW, I’m fully prepared to give Zadie Smith anything. I have fallen in love with her writing style, and nothing will stop me in this bottomless spiral of appreciation.

What I love most is that her technique is just so unconventional. I’ve been waist-deep (practically wading through the bloody stuff) in literary fiction for a while now, and so the pattern of paragraphs, speech marks and perfect grammar is engraved onto my brain. Yes, I love literary fiction and the classics and the Greeks, but there are only a certain number of name-pronunciation related Google searches that a girl can handle. I needed a change.

And change was what I damn well got. It took getting used to, but I got there.

Basically, NW is about four people – Leah, Natalie (Keisha), Felix and Nathan – who all grew up in the same London area, their intertwining relationships and their success stories. Or not, as the case may be. The characters are all fully fleshed-out, and probably reflect the lives of a few souls out there, right now. I’m not a Londoner *cue chorus of a South-Western ‘ooh-argh’*, but I think that if I was I would have got a little bit more from the novel. The places mentioned are fairly important (alas, I like to put an image to a place, and it’s hard to do if the only places you’ve been to in London are the Southbank and Islington), and I somehow get the impression that Smith uses these characters to paint a picture of the city itself. Their ambitions and achievements (and failures) are, at points, reflected by the characters’ physical/geographical location – a feature that I’ve only just realised, in fact. Brilliant.

In all, I actually really enjoyed this. Smith’s style is refreshing (makes a change from sometimes painfully descriptive 19th Century fiction) and vibrant, and the storyline itself, although describing the characters’ ‘normal’ lives, is interesting and so utterly different to what I expected. Love at first sight.



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