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Book 163: NW by Zadie Smith

Book 163: NW.
Author: Zadie Smith, 2012.
Genre: Contemporary. Relationship Drama. Racial Issues. Literary.
Other Details: Paperback. 340 pages/Unabridged Audiobook (10 hrs, 55 mns) Narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet.

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. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

From the synopsis, which was also on the back cover of the novel, I expected this to be an ensemble piece along the same lines of Zadie Smith's previous novels. However in NW Felix and Nathan, are closer to supporting characters while it is Leah and Natalie, who are the main protagonist. She also has opted for an experimental style, rather Joycean with sections of stream-of-consciousness. This was not quite as annoying as some I have read using this style but still came as a surprise.

NW was by no means a bad book, just one that initially left me feeling rather 'meh'. I really did not understand why on earth Natalie did what she did - perhaps rebelling against her perfect life or just showing that under the surface there can be self-destructive tendencies.

However, after reading the material provided by The Guardian Book Club I wondered if I had been too hasty in my assessment and elected to listen to the audio version. This proved a very different experience. The narrators, especially Karen Bryson, did a great job of capturing the London accents and slang as well as the stream-of-consciousness sections. As I have noted in the past I feel that this kind of material can work better in audio format. So the outcome was this second encounter revised my opinion of the novel markedly. I not only enjoyed it but could appreciate better the themes that Zadie Smith was exploring in the novel.

Guardian Book Club - John Mullan on 'NW' - overview of the novel.
Guardian Book Club - Zadie Smith on 'NW' - Zadie Smith talks about the inspirations behind 'NW'.
Tags: british, contemporary, literary, race
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