Visit the Northwest in Zadie Smith’s NW
By Zadie Smith
The Penguin Press, $26.95, 401 pages
Zadie Smith’s NW is many things, but it is definitely not boring. The book follows four characters – Leah, Felix, Natalie and Nathan – as they live their lives in a neighborhood in northwest London. It demonstrates, with often tragic results, how they interact with others and how some of those others react to them.
What makes this book so interesting is the various narrative styles that Smith plays with throughout the book. It begins, ordinarily enough, with chapters, conventional dialogue structure, ideas, thoughts, poetic flair and a meeting between two characters that brings to mind some scenes from the classic novels of the Victorian era. Then Smith takes the narrative and flips it on its head. She eventually abandons the chapter structure entirely, and she compacts lines of dialogue together into single lines on the page, both with and without quotation marks. There are even entire sections where a single paragraph will go on for pages.
The result of Smith’s varying stylistic choices is a book that is consistently engaging and never boring. The readers may find themselves pushing through just to see what happens next – both with the story and with the narrative style.
Reviewed by Gregory A. Young