NW is Zadie Smith’s masterful novel about London life. Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic NW follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan - after they’ve left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated. Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they’ve made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, NW is funny, sad and urgent - as brimming with vitality as the city itself. Praise for NW: Her dialogue sings and soars; terse, packed and sassy. Smith is simply wonderful: Dickens’s legitimate daughter . (Boyd Tonkin, Independent). Astonishing, dazzling. Really - without exaggeration - not since Dickens has there been a better observer of London scenes. Zadie Smith is a genius. It’s hard to imagine a better novel this year - or this decade . (A.N. Wilson). Intensely funny, richly varied, always unexpected. A joyous, optimistic, angry masterpiece. No better English novel will be published this year . (Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph). Absolutely brilliant. So electrically authentic . (TIME). Captivating. Funny, sexy, weird, full of acute social comedy, like London. She’s up there with the best around . (Evening Standard). Marvellous …crackles with reflections on race, music and migration. A lyrical fiction for our times . (Spectator). Undeniably brilliant …rush out and buy this book . (Observer). 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.
by Emily Harms
Zadie Smith – renowned author of the bestselling White Teeth, as well as the Orange Prize-winning On Beauty – has chosen to base her new novel mostly in Kilburn, North West London (or NW), and its surrounds.
Born and bred there herself, she provides a topography of the psyche of modern Britain like no other. Brilliantly written through the colourful tongue of characters’ Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan, the nuances of class, sex, and education are revealed as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood.
NW is a place of extreme contrasts, and the novel is divided into five distinct sections. ‘Visitation’ opens and closes the book with the story of a woman who came to Leah Hanwell’s door asking for help, forcing her out of her isolation. ‘Guest’ places you in NW6, Kilburn district, where Felix Cooper meets Tom Mercer outside Topshop in Oxford Street for a quote to get his hand-me-down car from his father repaired. Mostly based over one spring and summer, ‘Host’ tells of Natalie and Leah’s early childhood friendship and, later in their mid-thirties, we meet the women again – apparently happily married and professionally employed. However, in ‘Crossing’ we discover they are both engaged in forms of secretive, potentially dangerous rebellion against their domestic lives.
Zadie Smith’s vibrant depiction of the streets of NW London is so vivid that my time living there over a decade ago seems like only yesterday. The smells of the shisha pipes of Edgeware Road, the glorious fresh air, trees and grass of Hampstead Heath, the sounds of Halal and phone shops of Willesden and the rushings and brushings of Kilburn. Why this book didn’t make the cut for the Man Booker longlist is a complete mystery.
Emily Harms is Readings’ Marketing Manager and is a regular insomniac in her spare time.
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