Ugly, beautiful, ritzy, gritty
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
NW by Zadie Smith is her fourth novel and her most ambitious work yet; not because it is experiential in nature but because it follows a path which she proposed four years ago—“shaking the novel out of its complacency”. In her 2008 essay Two Paths for the Novel, which appeared in The New York Review of Books, Smith contrasts Joseph O’Neill’s realist novel Netherland with Tom McCarthy’s unusual work Remainder. She preferred the latter, casting askance glances at the staid ‘lyrical realism’, which she argues has unnecessarily remained the dominant force in literature for a long time. Smith challenged the tenets upon which realism is built: “the transcendent importance of form, the incantatory power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity of the self”. NW seems to be an attempt to break away from a comfortable realist mould, to get off from the long, worn road of realism to tread upon a less travelled path. Interestingly for this novelist, all her previous books have been brilliant updates to the ‘traditional novel’, which she has decried in the essay; in NW she has executed the Modernist ‘constructive deconstruction’ almost successfully.
NW, which takes its title from London’s northwest postal sector, is a tale of four people—Leah, Felix, Natalie, née Keisha and Nathan—all of whom grew up in the same impoverished part of northwest London, Willesden, where
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