I first read Zadie Smith in grad school, when we read White Teeth for a British contemporary class. I was instantly in love. There are few novels that capture lightning in a bottle in one try, and Smith did it. I decided that I needed to read her other work. Nothing has quite held the same kind of magic that White Teeth did, though I am pleased to say that everything except The Autograph Man is quite good and engrossing. I read On Beauty earlier this year, and I liked the difference in pace and tone that NW held.
This is the story of several young adults throughout a suburb of northwest London: Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan. Their stories mesh and collide in separate ways in a short period of time, yet their pasts are inextricable from the settings of their childhoods. To say much more than that would be to spoil the character and setting study that Smith lays out in the novel and slowly unfolds throughout the pages. There is love, lust, betrayal, sorrow, and redemption embedded in the pages. And you will know where to find them once you read.
If you like literary fiction, your chances of liking this book are greater than if you don’t. Smith spends a lot of time with people who are not likeable, and if that’s not your cuppa, then NW will probably annoy you quite a bit. That said, I found it to be a worthy payoff once I’d finished reading. I would like to revisit this in the years to come, and I think it would make a great study if you are looking at literature of location.
Cross-posted to my blog.