NW is Zadie Smith’s 2012 novel that follows four characters – Natalie, Leah, Felix, and Nathan – throughout their lives in North-West London. Having all grown up on the same council estate, it depicts the various paths Londoners can take, as well as the ways that people are inexorably drawn home, despite themselves.
Just a quick note: I am not a Londoner. I have no idea what is in North-West London, and I definitely feel like because of this, I have missed out on a pretty essential aspect of the novel. It is simultaneously a love note to and a commemorative funeral song for London – and I just didn’t really get that. It makes me want to, though!
HOWEVER this in no way diminished my enjoyment of the novel, which was exceptionally well-written. Each character is written in a slightly different experimental way. For example, Natalie’s section (which I enjoyed the most), was written in small numbered paragraphs, whereas Felix’s is more of a stream-of-consciousness narrative.
It talks about everything. Class struggle. Racial prejudice. The pressure to give birth. Drugs. What it means to be a ‘working woman’ (and particularly a ‘working mother’). Love. London. Family. Simultaneously expansive and minute, I really do consider this to be a tour-de-force by Smith.
It is perhaps a little less accessible than White Teeth, but I definitely enjoyed this more. (There were far fewer white men, for starters.) I’m very excited to read Swing Time when it comes out in November!