I have always enjoyed reading Zadie Smith’s books. They are complex and yet charming. At the same time, they leave you with lingering thoughts about the societies we live in and the nature of humans. I remember not enjoying, “White Teeth” the first time I read it. However, when I did read it the second time, I was captivated by her style of writing. The same happened with, “The Autograph Man”. I loved, “On Beauty” and her collection of essays, “Changing My Mind”. Now to her latest offering: NW.
“NW” – refers to North West London. The story revolves around its residents. The book is about their loves, sorrows, hypocrisies, ambitions, facades, prejudices and fears. The novel is about the four central characters on different rungs of the moralistic and social ladder. Each character is a world of their own in the book and that is what makes this book special and intriguing. This is perhaps Smith’s shortest book and yet with so many layers to it – almost like a Russian Doll, that never ceases to amaze you.
Leah Hanwell is married to an African named Michel. She has a troubled marriage and shares a love/hate relationship with her husband. There is then her friend Natalie (formerly known as Keisha), who is trying to grapple with her present and stick on to the past in the form of Leah. Nathan, Leah’s childhood friend is the third major character who is a weed-smoking, almost jobless wastrel. He feels that Leah and he are now worlds apart and cannot connect anymore. Felix Cooper is the fourth major character of the book who craves for a better life than the one he is leading right now. Their lives converge and that takes the book forward.
What appealed to me the most about the book besides the plot was the writing and the way the characters were sketched. The characters are real. They are not sentimental or emotional. They are human and display emotions in an understated manner. The writing is unconventional and fragmented and maybe it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely worked for me.
“NW” has been written by Smith after seven long years. The story when looked at it from that perspective almost seems fresh and that I attribute only to her writing, which is razor-sharp, taut and amusing at most times.
“NW” is all about people trying to make sense of their lives, when directionless and sometimes lost on hope. There is a lot going on in the book and at the same time, Zadie Smith allows you to take it all in and rest a little with your thoughts and emotions. It was a cracker of a read for me this year and I will definitely re-read it sometime later.