Fun fact: the fastest way to make sure I will not be reading a book? Making it required reading. Which is exactly what happened with Zadie Mith’s NW. I mean, it didn’t help that it was for a course I didn’t really like taking all that much, but still. That professor had hardly finished saying “you will have to read …” and something in my brain had already gone nope. After reading it for my book club, though? I’m actually considering it was probably for the best – because reading NW? Not my favourite part of this year, so far.
Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragicomic novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. In private houses and public parks, at work and at play, these Londoners inhabit a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to city-dwellers everywhere—NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.
Here’s the thing: I can see why NW was such a big deal. I mean, it was nominated for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction and everything. And, sure, I’m quite happy to say that I now have read it. The actual act of reading it, though? Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks. 10/10 would not recommend.
The thing is, though, that I found it really difficult to pinpoint exactly why the process of reading this left me with such a sour taste in my mouth. Because, you’ve got to give it to the author: I basically flew through the entire thing. I’m talking 3 hours or less. In all likelihood, though, that is mainly because nothing actually happens for about 90% of it. And not even in a good way.
Depending on whose perspective you’re reading, you’re faced with either a stream of consciousness that didn’t actually add anything to the narration, for me; or a list summarising almost an entire life, which unfortunately took up way less space than the other 3 parts combined. That’s not to say that the plot, as it is, wasn’t interesting. Because it was – or rather: it could have been. It’s just that I don’t feel, at all, that it was translated into this book in the best way to have the message come across.
The rating: 2/5
Look, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book, because, honestly – just like me, you might like to say you have read it. Just be aware of the fact that the actual experience of reading it seemed to be of lesser importance than the possibility to insert at least one of every single modernist style trick ever known to man. It’s clear to see why NW was nominated for prices: it seems to have been written in function of them. (Goodreads, TheStoryGraph)