Amy’s #CBR5 Review #4: NW by Zadie Smith

The landscape of the American novel is changing, and if it goes the way of NW and A Visit from the Goon Squad, I think I’ll be okay sticking to the old American novel, kthanks. Both previous mentioned books have a disjointed, half-finished feel about them. NW is a story about a girl named Leah Hanwell, whose life is turned upside down by a girl who comes to her door and begs for money. Leah gives her 30 pounds and sends her away in a taxi but then realizes realises, as this is London, after all) that she got scammed. Her mother, her husband, her friends tease her mercilessly for being such a “Mother Teresa” and the worst part is that Leah sees the girl around town later and harrasses her about paying back the money. But really, that’s not what the story is about…

The story is more about Leah and her lifelong friendship with Natalie (formerly Keisha) Blake. But that’s not what the story is about either. Maybe the story is about Leah and her struggles with her husband as he really wants kids and she is too afraid to have them.  Maybe it’s about Felix, a man from the same neighborhood as Leah and Natalie but with a totally different life.  Maybe it’s just about a random group of people living in the same geographical location whose stories connect sometimes but mostly don’t, how some of them came up out of poverty and some didn’t, how Natalie tried to get out of NW but ended up right back where she started and how Leah never left.

I couldn’t really tell what the book was about. All I know is that while the writing was engaging, I felt like the book wasn’t really going anywhere… and it was hard to keep paying attention or really caring about these people who were increasingly being described as more and more shallow and uninteresting.

One thought on “Amy’s #CBR5 Review #4: NW by Zadie Smith

  1. For me, NW was the main character and Leah, Natalie, Felix, Nathan andcCo just another generation passing through. The structure seemed experimental, because the author wrote from inside their heads, and starting with Leah, who had way too many stop, start, disparate thoughts racing through her mind. Things calmed down with Felix, and were ok and then not with Keisah/Natalie.

    I found it an interesting and engaging read and don’t profess to fully comprehend it all, but I liked this a lot more than the Goon Squad, but then I also lived in NW for neraly 8 years, so I was one of those outsiders passing through and probably lucky that I escaped!

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