”I wanted to write a black existentialist novel, told in separate parts, that replicated some feelings I have had about being alive.” (from an interview on The Root)
Zadie Smith is best known for her debut, White Teeth; NW is set in the same London neighborhood. NW refers to the area’s postal code, where its main characters grew up.
Some of the novel’s writing could be termed experimental. For example, one of its parts includes stage directions, quiz answers, and online chats.
Adult/High School–”I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me.” This quote comes very early in the story, and deftly frames each of the characters in this interesting portrait of residents of northwest London’s “council flats,” known in the U.S. as public housing. The novel is centered around the lifelong, sometimes bumpy relationship between friends Keisha Blake and Leah Hanwell. It reaches out from there to draw in family, lovers, and other residents, all speaking from a variety of cultures, social classes, and life expectations. The sections of the book are written in different styles, reflecting the characters’ personalities: Leah, unhappily married and working for a non-profit is softer and somewhat scattered; Keisha (now Natalie), a successful lawyer who has a secret life kept hidden from her husband and two children, is straightforward and analytical. Other characters bring their unique voices to weave connections and round out the story of changing lives, hard decisions, success, and tragedy, all emerging from this neighborhood. Though the narrative meanders at times, Smith’s portrayal of everyday lives–more complex than they appear on the surface–is an interesting look at an economically and culturally diverse group and how they all connect in this community. Mature teens who appreciate character-driven stories and a challenging structure will find a lot to enjoy in this book.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA