Recommended Christmas Reads: NW – Zadie Smith

Sara Adams 27 December 2012

‘NW’ tells the tale of four people of differing ethnic backgrounds, raised in the same Caldwell council estate, once they have left their estate and begin to make lives of their own.

It is a book of encounters; the shared characteristics of the protagonists merge with the distance of their new lives. At first, such a contrast may seem too gritty to be smooth and comfortable, but when delved into it becomes exciting and not without humour, as some reviews have suggested. The four main characters, Leah, Felix, Natalie, and Nathan, are all connected but at the same time, some have escaped their backgrounds, and some are still living it. However, they are all very much in tune with and moulded by their past.

The book is the most experimental of Zadie Smith’s novels, and why not? Some disagree with its fragmentary ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style, but there are large parts of narrative that are nothing short of pure poetry, providing ‘NW’ with the depth and humour ‘White Teeth’ is built upon. The opening chapter grabbed me immediately, beautifully describing areas of London largely overlooked by tourists and outsiders. This portrayal of a multicultural London is juxtaposed seamlessly with grittiness later on, allowing us to share the views of the characters when reminiscing. Each character’s narrative is stylistically individual, building the character’s profile subconsciously – and the different perspectives create layered identities for these characters. While ‘NW’ has been accused by some of employing stale and obvious stereotypes, when explored, this layering banishes any stereotype. Its individuality is clear and inescapable. It’s definitely worth a read.

Sara Adams