Customer Review

46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what to make of this, September 24, 2012
This review is from: NW: A Novel (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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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 1, 2012 9:22:11 AM PDT

I don't think I am ready to say what Smith's larger point might be, but I have some ideas about the literal end of the novel. Natalie sees the news report about the murder of Felix in Albert Road. She realizes it occurred right around the same time that she fled her home and took the long walk around North London with Nathan Bogle, their old schoolmate who now appears to be a pimp and general low life. In a panic herself, Natalie did not recognize Nathan's state of panic, or how he hid from authorities, during their walk. But when she later hears about the murder, she believe Nathan may have been involved. We, as readers, going back to the scene where Felix died, are given clues that she is probably correct.

I'm confused about Leah's state of mind near the end of the book. Her husband says she is upset about some photographs at the pharmacy. We know that she went to collect photos and was given some that included pictures of Shar--and she rejects those as not belonging to her. What is the significance of those photos? Is there a hidden relationship with Shar that Leah tries to hide even from herself?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2012 9:22:49 PM PDT
Madtea says:
Thanks for responding. I think you're right about Nathan (Felix also says one of the assailants is old enough to know better), although I still feel like there's a point about their turning Nathan in that's eluding me.

I'm not sure about her relationship with Shar, either. Here's my guess: Leah exists in such a bubble, where she just sort of floats around without being moved to act. I think there's part of her that wants to hit bottom, that wants to live a desperate sort of life, that wants to be relieved of responsibility. There's something in Shar that represents freedom to Leah.

Posted on Dec 31, 2012 3:20:01 PM PST
I can't get past the first 5 chapters. It is too confusing and hard to get into. Yes, what is this. Good for you for finishing it

Posted on Sep 6, 2013 6:03:33 PM PDT
Redrick says:
Zadie Smith is writing literary fiction, which aspires to the status of art. To the extent that a work has a single "point" it is trying to make, then it is rhetoric, not art. An infinite number of meanings can be derived from an art work, but that's your job, not the artist's. If you want to be led by the nose to some "meaning" or "point", then I suggest you try genre fiction like "Romance", or "Juvenile fiction".

Posted on Nov 14, 2014 12:41:04 AM PST
I'm addressing this in no particular order (and without reading others' comments); it just happens that I'm responding to the last thing first...

1. "...what point they thought Zadie Smith was ultimately trying to make." Ultimately I think it's foolish to speculate about what point an author is trying to make, especially in a novel like this. The only person who knows is Zadie Smith herself. I hope I can dig up an interview with her on NPR or BookPage or something...

2. I'm Gen X and I have basically zero qualms about drugs. I too was surprised when that turned up in Keisha/Natalie's life the way it did. (Any explanation why she changed her name?) Especially when she talks about how Leah was into drugs and partying, etc. and she (Keisha) avoided her (Leah) for a period of time. It's interesting to note that this is a very good literary critique, though I see no such statements in the one-star reviews. Apparently "It was horrible" qualifies as critical thinking these days...

3. Yes, the ending did feel very abrupt. The whole story was pretty poorly structured. We see Felix toward the beginning, and then not again for most of the rest of the book, then all of the sudden, at the end...

The interesting thing for me was that I was able to be completely disengaged from the characters and story (passively listening to the audio book version) and yet, in the end there was a pay off about equal to a decent, but not all that good, movie.
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