NW: A Novel

Editorial reviews

NW: A Novel

Smith has an ear for dialogue but also for those sneaky little moments when our life changes, when an almost imperceptible but irrevocable shift takes place in our mental picture of the world.

“NW” represents a deliberate undoing; an unpacking of Smith’s abundant narrative gifts to find a deeper truth, audacious and painful as that truth may be. The result is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.

My reading of NW leaves me with the uncomfortable suspicion that it contains subtexts far more intelligible to philosophers and sociologists (or just cleverer people) than they are to me.

The literary wunderkind who published White Teeth at age 25 shows off a pared-down style and cast, but continues to apply significant scrutiny to the world she’s examining.

Although the novel is filled with a familiar cast of multi-racial characters - and despite its obvious "writteness" - this is Smith's most human, and least social, novel to date.

Still, nothing can change the fact the Smith knows this bit of London in her bones, knows what it means to live there, knows what it means to get out. Yes, it’s an island we’re on here. A loud, crowded island. But like the novel itself, there’s beauty amid the cacophony.

The result of Smith’s experiments with style here is an authenticity of voice, the political and the personal, mixed like an M.I.A. song.

In “NW,” Smith raises smart and intriguing questions about the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, about issues of culpability and, above all, about the daily brutalities of modern urban life.

White Teeth gave a brilliant, postcolonial nod to Dickens, On Beauty tipped its hat to E.?M. Forster, and reading NW, I felt a pang of what might have been: of how close Smith came to winking at Collins, and how very much I would’ve loved to read that book.

It is Smith’s most satisfying novel, funny, sexy, weird, full of acute social comedy, like London. She’s up there with the best around.

NW offers a nuanced, disturbing exploration of the boundaries, some porous, some impenetrable, between people living cheek by jowl in urban centers where the widening gap between haves and have-nots has created chasms into which we're all in danger of falling.

NW is Smith at her most eccentrically complex. It is hilariously funny yet often macabre.

Kirkus Reviews : NW (August 15, 2012)

Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more conventionally minded readers might abandon it in frustration.