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NW: A Novel Hardcover – September 4, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1 edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594203978
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203978
  • ASIN: 1594203970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (198 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2012: Zadie Smith's NW, an ode to the neighborhoods of northwest London where the author came of age, feels like a work in progress. For most writers, that would be a detriment. But in this case, the sense of imperfection feels like a privilege: a peek inside the fascinating brain of one of the most interesting writers of her generation. Smith (White Teeth, On Beauty) plays extensively with form and style--moving from screenplay-like dialogue to extremely short stories, from the first person to the third--but her characters don't matter as much as their setting. Smith is a master of literary cinematography. It's easy to picture her creations, flaws ablaze, as they walk the streets of London. --Alexandra Foster

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In her first novel since On Beauty (2005), Smith draws on her deepening social and psychological acuity and her intimacy with North West London to portray a quartet of struggling men and women linked by blood, place, affinity, and chance. Of Jamaican descent, Keisha, who renames herself Natalie, is smart, disciplined, ambitious, and duplicitous. Anglo Leah is unconventional, fearful, compassionate, and devious. They were close growing up together in public housing but are now leading somewhat divergent lives. Natalie is a corporate lawyer with a wealthy husband, two children, and a big, flashy house. Leah works for a not-for-profit organization and is married to a sweet French African hairdresser. As girls, they had crushes on schoolmate Nathan; now he’s mired in drugs, violence, and rage. Noble and ambitious biracial Felix crosses their paths just as his radiant integrity and kindness become liabilities. With exceptional discernment, wit, empathy, and artistry, Smith creates a breathtakingly intricate mesh of audible and interior voices while parsing family relationships, class and racial divides, marriage, and friendship. In this quintessential twenty-first-century urban novel depicting a vibrant, volatile multicultural world, Smith calibrates the gravitational forces of need and desire, brutality and succor, randomness and design, dissonance and harmony, and illuminates both heartbreaking and affirming truths about the paradoxes of human complexity. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in North West London in 1975 and continues to live in the area. She is currently working on a second novel.

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Customer Reviews

She has such a unique and intuitive writing style.
Toria
The story just didn't seem to go anywhere and I had a hard time getting into and enjoying the book.
AnneB
I could not get interested in the story or the characters.
KSreader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 148 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The primary characters in Zadie Smith's new novel -- residents of North West London, from which the title derives -- are dissected and analyzed, or more often skewered, as Smith lays bare their hypocrisies, ambitions, facades, insecurities, prejudices, and fears. The four central characters stand on different rungs of the social ladder. The impact of class and social identity on relationships is the novel's central theme, why some people rise above their beginnings and others don't is the central question, but -- setting aside those social issues -- I enjoyed NW for the portrait it paints of troubled individuals coming to terms with their changing lives.

Leah Hanwell, 35, is married to an African named Michel. Leah has a love/hate relationship with Michel, and also with her friend Natalie (formerly Keisha), a barrister whose upward mobility (assisted by marriage to a prosperous money manager) has eluded her childhood friends. Just as J-Lo tried some years ago to convince her audience that she was still "Jenny from the block," Natalie is experiencing something of an identity crisis. Having shed the name Keisha, she still clings to her past, at least to Leah, whose attendance at Natalie's posh parties seems designed to contrast Natalie's humble beginnings to her current status. Although Leah has done well for herself, earning a degree and finding employment with a nonprofit, she remains tongue-tied in the company of educated professionals (Natalie invites Leah to tell stories and then gladly tells them for her) and is embarrassed by Michel's sincerity (but only when they are in public). Leah also seems envious of and disquieted by Natalie's children.

A couple of lesser characters haven't made the same progress as Natalie and Leah.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Madtea on September 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big Zadie Smith fan. I loved both White Teeth and On Beauty (although I hated The Autograph Man). I spent the first 30 pages of NW thinking, "What is this?" - I couldn't even figure out what was going on. But then I started to get it and think it was such a brilliant book. Now I've finished it and I'm back to wondering, "What was this?"

I had a few big problems. One is that Natalie, after a certain point, seemed more like a type than a human being. I never believed she would lose control so completely, or that she would let herself sink so low. (Or that someone so tightly controlled and conscious of appearances would do drugs so readily - as she apparently did throughout her life. Maybe that's just a prudish American reaction to drugs, or maybe I just live in a bubble.) Two: something in Natalie's narrative made me not really like either her or Leah (although I really enjoyed reading Leah's section at the time). In fact, I felt like the characters were mostly being skewered (as another reviewer said) by the author, which didn't make reading this book any more pleasant. Three: am I missing something in the ending? I couldn't believe that was it - it felt like I was in mid-page. And four: what did this all really amount to in the end? What did it all mean?

I'd be curious to hear from other people, particularly what they thought the ending meant in the literal sense, but also what point they thought Zadie Smith was ultimately trying to make.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Zimmerman on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Zadie Smith's fourth novel, NW, is her most ambitious in terms of structure and style. She's passionate, poetic, a bit cheeky, and, yes, at times challenging, too. But don't let that scare you off. This novel about the people who inhabit a London neighborhood, told in five sections, might be her best book yet.

The now mid-30s Londoners who all grew up in the same neighborhood, but whose paths have diverged, all have secrets, all have seen successes and failures (some more than others), and all have a complicated relationship with their roots. Essentially, the novel asks us to consider how different factors (race?) and different formative events turn us into the people we eventually become.

The main focus is on Leah Hanwell and Natalie (Keisha) Blake, lifelong friends. Each woman gets her own section of the novel. We start with Leah, whose story is told in short mini-chapters. Leah is in a failing relationship, based largely on physical attraction, with a "beautiful" man named Michel. And she's trying to figure out what it means to be happy -- is the definition of contentment her friend Natalie's marriage to a nice, successful man named Frank, and their two children? Or is it Leah's own avowed-childless state?

The next section, the most straightforward in the novel, tells the story of guy named Felix -- a recovering drug addict who is trying to put his life back together. But is the pull of the past too strong? We only find out at the end of the novel how Felix's story relates to the stories of the other three characters. And it's more than a little bit of a gut-punch.

My favorite part of the novel is Natalie's section, the third.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on September 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
NW is both a quadrant of London and a state of mind in Zadie Smith's ambitious novel. It is composed of a dense cluster of communities where a diverse group of people struggle to get and keep a toehold in London. The two main characters in the book are Leah and Natalie, friends since childhood in Caldwell, a NW enclave. Both are determined to be people different from their parents and the typical NW stereotype.

The first section of the book is presented from the the perspective of Leah, who is disquieted that her life lacks the focus or seriousness of Natalie's life, yet is embarrassed that her husband so much wants to emulate that life. Natalie is a barrister with two children and a husband, Frank, who is an attractive, sophisticated currency trader. Leah works for a nonprofit and her husband, Michel, is a hairdresser determined to better himself financially and socially. Leah and Michel are invited to all of Natalie's parties, but the friendship has become brittle, and the reader is uncertain whether any two people in this foursome still like each other. There is considerable tension all around, but we have no back-story or insight to dissect the clues we are given. The remainder of the book provides the context, but there is no easy solution to the disquiet in the lives of these two women. The book provides the reader with story arcs and details about their lives, but has the honesty and confidence to leave us not with a tidy solution but instead with all the jagged edges of real life.

For all the diversity of the characters described in the book, characters fall into two main categories: those who can afford to be sloppy, like Leah and Frank, and those who can't, like Natalie and Michel.
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