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NW (2012)

NW (2012)

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3.36 of 5 Votes: 5
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0241144140 (ISBN13: 9780241144145)
Hamish Hamilton

About book NW (2012)

For me, 'NW' is not really a story about characters or lives. It is about format, it is about narrative style. And given that Zadie experiments with 4 different styles to tell the stories of 4 different characters living in NW London, the result is that the book is disjointed, uneven and lacking in cohesion. Zadie is clearly a massive talent, and I have a great deal of respect, having read and loved 'White Teeth' when I was just 14 years old. But here, Leah's chapter, which is inspired by the 'Stream of Consciousness' style of James Joyce is bewildering, alienating, whilst the final section, for Natalie, is a tremendous in the funny and contemporary that it charts the character's childhood, adolescence and self-discovery.The shining light of the novel is something that I read about in a professional review that I wholeheartedly agree with - the dialogue is AMAZING. It is genuine, authentic, believable, requiring no suspension of belief that so much dialogue in contemporary prose expects of us. This is how London talks. A saving grace. Never have I encountered another book that wanted so desperately to be David Foster Wallace. I was not even sure that this is an aesthetic that a book could achieve. Managing to even achieve DFW-lite status is not something I think that many people are capable of accomplishing.Despite the fact that I am a big fan of DFW's big novels and NW having the elements of what should have been a good book, I was generally underwhelmed by this story, which unfortunately gets lost among too much structural nonsense to really communicate anything effective or interesting about its characters or the world that they inhabit.For starters, NW commits what I consider to be a Faulknerian mistake of having its first segment be the least coherent out of all of them, Faulknerian as that's what he does in The Sound and The Fury, although NW doesn't do it to quite the same extent as the first part POV, Leah, is not of limited mental capacity, but rather just being written about in disjointed sentence fragments because... actually, I have no idea why this is being done. Dialogue in this segment is handled lazily, dashed statements that don't have quotes around them and are not attributed to anyone, which makes it tough to follow at times. Starting off a book with an impenetrable narrative style is not ideal. There is one chapter with a short poem about an apple tree or something and the lines of bold text are arranged across the page in the shape of what I suspect is supposed to be an approximation of an apple tree. Here's a tip to all authors: Don't try to make shapes with poetry. Just write some words if you want to, okay?There were things to like here. Having never been to London, it's something that I would think of as this giant and impersonal city, and yet Smith paints a picture of one neighborhood in a city full of neighborhoods, provincial, everyone knowing everyone but also not really knowing anyone at the same time. Having lived in the Baltimore area my entire life, this is something that I can appreciate. In NW, no one wants to go south of the river because they just don't do it. Baltimore people occasionally act like crossing Charles Street (the north-south road that divides the east and west of the city) is some great journey. Baltimore is, in fact, obliquely referenced in the course of this story, as during one part of the Natalie Blake numbered adventure, a reference is made to how all of Frank's and Natalie's co-workers are obsessed with a television show that is about African-American males selling crack vials in "a forgotten and depressed city with one of the highest murder rates" - this is obviously The Wire, although why she doesn't name it as such, I don't know. Unsurprisingly, Natalie and Frank, disdainful of this NW heritage, don't themselves watch the show, although it seems to me that NW and Baltimore probably have a fair bit in common.The dedication towards expressing all of the different speech patterns of people from different ethnic backgrounds and different socioeconomic situations is admirable. If only these lines were spoken in the course of a more coherent story, one that actually gives most of its characters something beyond a one-note sad struggle against whatever they are struggling against. There is a fair amount of showing what the characters are, but we never get in any of their heads enough to really understand why.For me, the most enjoyable part of the novel is probably its most DFW-ian, the strange numbered narrative that centers on Keisha/Natalie Blake and how she goes through life. It's full of strange, short digressions, presented linearly although many of the thoughts are almost parenthetical in nature and remind me more of something along the lines of Infinite Jest's end notes, which contain a whole lot of weird and cool stuff. These are mostly just weird rather than cool. Natalie seems like a person who just does what the world expects of her, except there's a weird porn obsession that's never explained in any sufficient way. Again, there are some interesting things going on - like exploring Natalie and Leah as BFFs from both sides, seeing that friendship build up from Natalie's perspective after seeing its present day form from Leah's perspective, but it's just like... missing the glue that holds it all together. Its weirdness was not charming but rather just annoying. And now I want to go read Infinite Jest again, which is the platonic ideal that NW aspires to and does not approach.

Do You like book NW (2012)?

Una bela scrittura, asciutta, senza fronzoli ma che sa essere lirica quanto basta. Lo consiglio

I love her writing and am looking forward to her next book.


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