nationality: UK, of color
"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."
I was really happy that I finally got this book after being in queue for well on four months. I've been to see Zadie read from On Beauty and have read her previous novels and many of her short stories and essays. In short, I was hoping for the Zadie Smith I'd read before.
And that was a trap.
Now NW is clever. There's all sorts of literary devices being used here and the symbolism is everywhere. NW could be NorthWest or it could be nowhere like where all the characters go to. All sorts of things can be read into subtext if you're that sort of reader. So many coded social and linguistic events march through these pages that one starts to feel hit over the head with them.There's a definite nod to modernism and Virginia Woolf. Dare I say there was a bit too much of this stylistic flourish and a bit too little adherence to her characters?
Ok, so the first chapter with Leah was very depressing to me for personal reasons so I slogged through it to arrive at Guest with Felix, the most interesting character with the most drive in the whole book. There's a purpose to his chapter, things are going to happen and you feel it. But his chapter ends and we then get to spend a lot of time with Natalie/Keisha. I really couldn't get into her at all. And then her breakdown just seemed weird and random and like it was wasn't really thought of because of the character but because the book had been going along without any climax or outright conflict for way too long. I guess I can't understand a character who worries she has no personality, reverts to teenagehood, and then returns to no personality woman.
I found this such a struggle to read and I kept falling asleep partially because I could not discern a real point. I kept grasping for clear reasons why I didn't really like it. Was it that I dislike London and live in Sheffield which is a city for those who hate living in cities? And for that matter, what was the theme? Was it roots? Time? Simply creating a sense of place? What I have loved most about Smith's writing-her philosophical wit, her similes and metaphors were occasionally allowed to come to the surface but for the most part it was a cleverly constructed piece of writing that felt like it forgot it was to be a narrative. There are novellas in here but the characters you spend the most time with are not really well done so the novel itself falls a bit flat.