NW

By Zadie Smith

The Short Take:

Friends and former classmates from a public housing estate in north west London find their relationships change as they venture into their 30s. Smith changes her writing style dramatically as she moves from one character’s story to the other; just as the lives of her four main characters are dramatically changed.

Why?

There’s a lot of tension in this book. A life-long friendship is frayed by differing economic circumstances. A successful over achiever wonders who she really is after changing so much of her life. A former drug addict is making hopeful, positive plans for his future. There’s also a lot of diversity — in race, ambition, and attitude about the future.

It all creates a rather messy brew. But, that is the very glory of this novel. It reflects life: the changes you go through, the desire to shed your past or avoid your future, the people and things you leave behind, the next opportunity you just can’t seem to grasp.

This world Smith has conjured is also the one she grew up in. One can’t help but wonder which of these characters she identifies with most. Or, if they reflect different aspects of her life now as a successful, respected author whose background was not so different.

A Little Plot:

Leah and Natalie (once called Keisha) have been close friends since they were tiny children. However, that friendship has worn thin as Natalie climbs the socioeconomic ladder. While certainly not a failure, Leah clings to what is familiar and can’t seem to visualize any path forward. Both are in marriages with significant cracks.

Former classmate Felix has overcome his drug addiction and is looking forward with optimism. Unfortunately, other forces could alter that.

Then there’s Nathan. Once the object of Leah’s childhood crush his life has devolved substantially.

These are the four stories Smith explores, with the emphasis on Natalie and Leah.

I didn’t immediately find a website for Zadie Smith, but to read an interview with the author abut his novel, click here.

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