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3.1 out of 5 stars
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3.1 out of 5 stars
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on 8 March 2017
This is not an easy book to read and it takes a while to get into but stick with it as it is innovative and experimental and it is just a refreshing change to read someone who is not frightened to take risks.

At first, it all seems very jagged with lots of shards poking up to the surface but after a while, I relaxed into it and rather than try to make complete sense of each phrase, let the book and its themes flow over me. It is beautifully written and verges on the poetic in places with form and phrases messed around with to keep the book always edgy and exciting

but it it also brilliantly evokes this part of north west London with the communities depicted with searing clarity.

I also got quite fond of Leah and found her determination not to have children so refreshing and Natalie's escapades verging on the farcical on occasions although I found it hard to feel that she was a real person a lot of the time but it is always going to be difficult to feel empathy for characters so different from yourself but that to me is part of the joy of books that you csn gain insights into different worlds
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on 1 January 2014
I have never read Zadie Smith before so didn't know what to expect. The back cover description drew me in but I found it very disjointed and difficult to read at times. I did like the way the characters were described and how they were linked but that was about it. If I really don't like a book I wont finish it but this had me ploughing on, if only to see if I could gain some fluency. The end was a little strange. I have friends who loved it so perhaps its just not for me.
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on 25 May 2017
Excellently written, the characters feel very real, with very human failings. Especially good if you know that bit of NW London!
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on 8 April 2017
Great read
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on 5 May 2017
Really original
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on 31 January 2017
Thought I'd read it before watching the TV version but gave up. I hate the dialoge which is unclear about who is talking. Fine if you know the characters well or they are clearly distinguishable. But when two characters are new and being developed, it's far too frustrating to try and patch comments on to one of them when both have similar back stories e.g. went to the same school.
Yes, it's a well-known technique. But no, I don't like it.
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on 25 February 2017
standard
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 February 2015
Having read a publisher's proof copy of this novel and about to submit my review I was fascinated by the wide and approximately equal spread of ratings. It suggests an author moving beyond the comfort zones of many of her readers but I hope that the varied response will not reduce Smith's sense of literary adventurism.

The settingis the author's home ground and, whatever the overall success of the book, her descriptions of this area of NW London around Willesden, one of those where deprivation and wealth lie close together, is exciting and brash, especially for a reader with no first-hand experience of the locality. Even more than the two male characters, Felix and Nathan, it was this part of London that dominated the book and further accentuated the focus on the two central female characters, Leah and Keisha/Nathalie.

Leah Hanwell, a graduate of Irish descent, now in her mid-30s, and working in `the charities sector' is married to Michel, a North African who works as a hairdresser but seeks to improve himself by speculating on-line. The reader is made aware very early that whilst he wants children she does not and takes every step to avoid them.

Nathalie De Angelis, a barrister and mother married to the rich and handsome Frank [Francesco], lives in a suitably grand home. She was at school with Leah and then called herself Keisha Blake. At first appearance she is a social climber, the surprise being her continued friendship with Leah [At a dinner party, `Leah tries to explain what she does for a living to someone who doesn't care. The spinach is farm to table. Everyone comes together for a moment to complain about the evils of technology, what a disaster, especially for teenagers, yet most people have their phones laid next to their dinner plates.']. Later, however, we learn about Keisha's determination to educate herself and to move beyond the `respectable black working class'.

The relationship between the two women overcomes their current social divide as both address doubts about their husbands [Natalie and Frank have reached the stage of `a double act who only speak to each other when they're onstage'] and exchange gossip about old classmates. The terrific opening of the book describes one of these, Shar, who takes money from the very naïve Leah using a very obvious sob story. Later her family and friends all point out her gullibility but one suspects that Leah would do the same again, although their later friendship was rather bizarre.

Nathan Bogle was a promising footballer and the object of all female, and no doubt some male, longing at school, is now reduced to a stumbling crack-smoking wreck in the bus station.

Felix Cooper is introduced through a coincidence and not completely successfully so. A recovering addict, at 32 he seems to be on the way to a better life as a mechanic and we follow his day from NW6 to W1, a world away, to look at an old MG owned by a rich boy [though I was not wholly convinced by the interaction between the two]. Later he drops in on Annie, an aristocratic ex-lover and addict. Felix's story seems somewhat wedged into the overall narrative almost as if to maintain a gender balance.

The sections vary stylistically which may give some readers difficulty and be be the basis of jibes against `modernism'. In the section, `Host', Keisha's/Natalie's story is presented as 185 discrete micro-tales, almost photographs, that coalesce to explain the strength and determination of the character and, amongst other things, offer this male reader an insight into the issues and experiences affecting young female adolescents in NW6. Text is presented as
disembodied lines of poetry, dialogue as grouped lines without inverted commas and words are arranged on the page to create visual images. This produces a river of information, sometimes as violent as swirling rapids, and the reader is advised to hang on and try to enjoy the journey.

The absence of a tidy conclusion may disappoint but would go against all that has gone before. The characters will continue to bounce along, influenced by current events and relationships as well as those that supplant them. This is a book that I will return to in a few years as I am certain there is much that I have failed to see or appreciate. As of today though, 7/10.
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on 16 December 2013
I found this book very hard going indeed. I was unabke to identify with any of the characters and half way through the book I gave up, as I simply had no idea where the narrative was going. I felt that the book was highly pretentious, and more about being arty and modern than actually engaging potential readers. Did nothing for me at all!
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on 14 April 2015
I decided to download this because a student was reading this. Perhaps if you have no stake in London it is as interesting as any book focusing on a city (or part thereof) and its inhabitants. I'm a SE Londoner (who has lived abroad for many years) and I just don't recognise the London Zadie Smith writes about. Neither do I like her writing style in this book. Maybe her style varies from book to book, but sadly for me I am sufficiently put off never to attempt to read anything else she has written. I gave up reading this after a few chapters. Maybe it gets better as you progress but it's just not for me. I have eclectic taste in literature but I think this is a step too far for me.
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