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NW Hardcover – 27 Aug 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (27 Aug 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0241144140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241144145
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 110,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, and of a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People.

Product Description

About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975, and still lives in the area. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, and of a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Zanna Star on 22 Aug 2013
Format: Paperback
The book is divided into sections narrated by different characters. Our first storyteller is Leah, a young white woman from North West London with Irish parents, married to a black French-African immigrant, Michel. The initial encounter Leah has with a young woman begging for help at her door reveals her generous nature, while the fragmentary style of the writing seems designed to show us the style of her thought. We learn that Leah is resisting uncomfortable pressure on her from all sides to get pregnant. We realise that she and Michel have got married hastily, each naive about the other's life plans. While Michel has unexamined patriarchal attitudes embodied in his relationship to Leah, claiming her property, being & body as his own, she has been attracted simply by his beauty and kindness, and for her the relationship is based on lust.

I was struck by the way Leah's encounter with the desperate woman was reconstructed by Michel and her mother, and how this changed her behaviour. This kind of skilfully handled detail built up an impression of her as very passive and naive. I found Leah and her mother Pauline very realistic as white people who have generationally graduated levels of ignorance about race. While Pauline is ridiculous and ignorant in her attitudes, Leah is more subtle, but she is unaware of white privilege; Smith shows this very skilfully though Leah's resentful and self-pitying feelings about her relationship with her co-workers.

Leah narrates encounters with her black friend Natalie and her husband and children. Leah sees her as grown up and her life as meaningful - this is partly conferred by motherhood - only giving birth legitimises a woman's existence, according to the overt & implicit messages Leah constantly receives from husband, mother, friends.
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96 of 105 people found the following review helpful By s k on 3 Sep 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
NW is a brave departure for Zadie Smith and one that could potentially alienate a large proportion of her readership. It is an odd and fragmentary novel, humourless and bland. The melodious prose and multiple plots have given way to a modish Modernism; Dickens's influence has been erased, the 'hysterical realism' utterly subdued. But that is to be expected. Novelists do not have to keep rehashing a working formula, and it says something of Smith's integrity that she has decided to move on. The new style, then, is encapsulated in the narrative's stuttering and spare composition, a complete reversal of the seamless unity of her last three novels.

The novel follows a group of thirtysomethings from the same Caldwell council estate - Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan. Each character carries the burden of urban ennui: Leah is in the midst of an existential crisis, while her closest friend Natalie (formerly Keisha) is a class-conscious barrister seeking some excitement; Felix, however, is a wide boy recovering alcoholic similar to Nathan, who simply shuffles through the pages as a homeless junky. All the usual themes are accounted for (identity, class, race, drugs, love, work, death, guilt, redemption), but as Smith's interest in each character is asymmetrical, it makes the book unbalanced. It flows best as a procession of snapshots replicating the random movements of a city. But, to follow Smith down this structural and experimental route, the characters must be interesting, and sadly they are not.

The depth just isn't there, each one barely knowable. Instead of total characterisation, there are only pointed and evocative shards, the broken bottle approach leaving the process of reassembly in the reader's hands. Such, though, is the way with Modernism.
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55 of 63 people found the following review helpful By ArtsEater on 30 Sep 2012
Format: Hardcover
Modernism is fashionable again. First we had Will Self's 'Umbrella' and now we have Zadie Smith's 'NW'. Both novels use modernist techniques such as stream of consciousness and multiple narratives. Both are set in and around north London. But whereas Self's novel is largely set in the north London suburbs of Barnet, Muswell Hill and East Finchley, Smith's 'NW' moves the dial anti-clockwise and is set in north-west London. Or to be more precise, Willesden. But is 'NW' north west London - or is it 'Nowhere'? A play on 16th century statesman and author Thomas More's famous book about Nowhere - 'Utopia'? If it is, then Smith's utopia is more of a dystopia. Willesden is less the land of milk and honey and more the place of skunk and money. As in many London towns, deprivation lives on the next street to wealth.

The novel revolves around a long friendship: 30-something Natalie (once Keisha) Blake is a successful barrister with two young children from her marriage to handsome banker, Frank. Leah Hanwell, a philosophy graduate, works for a non-profit organisation and lives in a council flat with her Franco-African partner Michel - a man intent on making money through share trading over the Internet. Both Natalie and Leah grew up on the same Caldwell council estate in Willesden. An estate which may well have been responsible for Leah's interest in philosophy since each block is named after an icon of the subject: Smith, Hobbes, Bentham, Locke, Russell. The girls' friendship therefore goes way back, but when we first meet them Leah is irritated by Natalie's social and professional ascendancy as well as her well-attended dinner parties. Natalie has climbed the social ladder whilst Leah has remained pretty much on the first rung. And friction ensues.
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