Wednesday, November 16, 2016

NW by Zadie Smith

NW by Zadie Smith
Readers: Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published September 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: bought the audiobook at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
If you've been reading my Sunday posts the past couple of weeks, you'll know that this book challenged me, in no small part because I was listening to it. Which is not to say that the readers did a poor job. On the contrary, they both did an excellent job. It's just that Smith has not written a traditional novel with NW and it requires a reader's full attention. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, said of NW:
"At times, reading NW is like running past a fence, catching only strips of light from the scene on the other side. Smith makes no accommodation for the distracted reader—or even the reader who demands a clear itinerary."
I do nearly all of my book listening while I'm driving; I'm definitely a distracted reader. Eventually, though, as the characters became familiar to me, as I because used to the rhythm and style of Smith's writing, I began to feel like I was keeping up with the story. Even so, this is a book to hold in your hands to read...maybe as a read/listen combo because, seriously, in this dialogue heavy book, getting the accents really helped set the scene. Am I going in circles here?

When I finished this book, I assumed I was finished with it. I'd write my review, I'd donate the audiobook to charity and that would be that. But these characters are staying with me. The reasons for their actions continue to have me thinking. Were the things they did in part because of their impoverished background, were they products of their cultures? I'll probably still send my audiobook off into the world. But I might just pick up a print copy. Because Natalie, in particular, is really stuck in my head. And that's never a bad thing.


  1. I love that you are still thinking about this book. Smith's writing is terrific, so I'm excited to read NW. I just received my copy of her latest book, Swing Time, which I hear is excellent.

  2. I found her latest book to be a difficult read too. I read it instead of listened to it, but it was one of those cases where I finished it and wondered WTH I had just read. I did not "get" it. I feel like I missed something big while reading it. I can't say that the characters have stayed with me beyond the few reviews I've seen or the response to comments left on my own blog. I do want to try another one of her novels because I want to make sure it was me and not the author.

  3. I can see how this would be a challenge as an audio book because I always do audio books while I'm doing something else. I've found in some cases audio helps me because it keeps me from skimming (like in PD James - some of her mysteries are soooo detailed!) but in something this intense I think I could easily lose some of the impact. I'm not sure it's for me right now because I'm pretty much constantly a distracted reader but it does sound interesting. I always like a book that makes me think long after I'm finished with it.

  4. Glad to hear the characters are staying with you. I DNFd my audio review copy, but think I might have liked it better as a read/listen. Maybe I'll try again some day...