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“…Overnight everyone has grown up. While she was becoming, everyone grew up and became.” 

NW ~ Zadie Smith

I just couldn’t bring myself to finish this book. I did of course soldier through to the end, because what did you think I was? Some kind of book abandoner? A coward? That a few experimental chapters and gritty dialogue were going to scare me away? I will, however, never get the last few weeks of my life back. Nobody knows the sacrifices a dedicated bibliophile makes.

I must admit that I haven’t read much of her work, well, nothing else other than On Beauty, which is one of the best books I’ve read in my adult life. (How many other books have I said that about? I urge you to not go through my previous posts and hold me to this.) Why didn’t I read anything else by her since? Perhaps I was afraid of what would happen if I read something I didn’t like, and that horror has been realised. Now I don’t know what to do with myself. Maybe I can pretend I never read NW, or admit that I’m a Zadie Smith champion but only of one of her books. Either way, the damage has been done and her first novel White Teeth shall have to be put off for another five years yet.

NW is alluring at first because Smith starts off with a bang. Set in North West London, which is as self-experimental as the book is itself. Intense characters (there are four main characters in the book), strange inter-personal relationships, council houses, an alien dialect and of course the building up of a sinister feeling. Something is going to happen. These people are going to fall apart. They are trying to escape a life which they never will.

Nothing happens. Maybe something does, but I missed it. There’s a killing, animal injury is churned into the mix, the murderer is revealed; apart from that, I struggled with the short chapters and the inability to form a linear connection. For a sizeable chunk of the novel, about fifty percent of the middle, I didn’t even recognise the characters. That could mean one of two things: Zadie Smith has experimented with this novel and fulfilled her end. Or, I am just not bright enough.

Why you should read it:

  • If you’re an ardent Zadie Smith fan and you believe she can do no wrong
  • If you like reading books that challenge tradition, give you something to work against
  • If you’ve lived in London, or NW and that world fascinates you

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • If you like to be entertained by a book, challenged emotionally and mentally; but don’t come in prepared with an armour and sword ready to battle against the prose.
  • If you want a story