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NW: A Novel Hardcover – September 4, 2012
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A novel praised as highly as Zadie Smith’s NW surely has to be good. It’s evocatively told in the voices of believable Londoners, replete with natural intonation and convincing... Read morePublished 19 days ago by Sheila Deeth
White Teeth without the bite, narrative verve, or vividly realized characters. Leah, Michel, and Frank are lifeless bundles of traits, and Natalie, whose biography receives the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Jill N. Levin
Didn't like it. Too hard to follow and after 60 pages decided to stop trying.Published 2 months ago by Rerun
This was a really enjoyable read. Some very interesting characters. Would definitely recommend.Published 3 months ago by andy mckay
...though not particularly revelatory in a major sense. My favorite thing about ZS is her random little observations about big things, particularly in the realm of emotional... Read morePublished 3 months ago by pianistcomposer
This is a wonderful novel with a multi-layered structure and fascinating characters. Despite its up-to-the-minute references, it is most like Hardy or late Dickens in its social... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Molly
I love Zadie Smith. I've read everything she's published. I love the distinct ways in which the three stories are told in this book and I love that they are lightly interrelated... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Melissa Wilson