Zadie Smith - NW

Rating 5.8

Zadie, my Zadie!
What have you done?

If I had to put all of my money on just one young novelist from the UK you would have been that author. I liked the books you wrote as well as the odd feature you published on The Guardian and on The New Yorker. I admired you and highly-rated your intelligence.

And yet, this long-awaited NW of yours is - how to put that nicely? - a major disappointment. How came? How?

I remembered you as a talented, sophisticated novelist with a knack for accents and a real talent in building up believable, if sometimes disturbing, characters. What's more, your plots were always carefully handcrafted and were as pitch-perfect as a clockwork.

But here? Here, my Zadie we have none of that.
For reading NW was like skimming through the drafts of an unfinished novel - well, actually a couple of unfinished novels - with only a few disjointed moments of actual Smithesque brilliance.

Were you simply lazy in tying the threads you wrote down or - even worse - did you truly believed that this stuff was worth of publication?
Don't take me wrong. Had any other novelist written something like NW I would have at least appreciated the sheer ambitiousness of its syncopated structure and savoured those few good moments of literature in it.

But you're Zadie Smith, for goodness' sake!
And precisely because you're Zadie Smith, you cannot deliver something as clumsy as NW.

Listen, I appreciated the inclusion of The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks into this novel (?) and all that, but you fell short in pretty much everything else.

Shall we talk about characters? Let's do that.
What you gave us here is an unlikely bunch of individuals revolving around North West London with - I reckon - two strong leading roles: Leah and Keisha/Natalie. Not that they're perfect, but they sort of work. Unfortunately, all the other characters in NW are exaggerations, highly-stereotyped figurines which could be easily dismissed.

Enter. The poor former teenage mum begging for attention and a few quids who comes from a tough neighborhood. Check.
The half-Italian spoiled rich guy who lives in his own bubble and peppers his Oxbridge English with mamma and the likes. Check.
The French black hairdresser (oh my!) who never grew up and only looks for confrontation. Check.
The old hippie vegetating and getting stoned in a dirty messy council flat. Check.
The artsy cougar who happens to be a heiress and chases uncouth youngsters dispensing sex and grammar. Exeunt.

Come on! Each one of the people in this parade is just a spoof. And you know that!
Plus, some of them are shown to the reader and then promptly left behind. For good, I guess.
But still...

To be honest with you, Zadie, the most touching and authentic moment of the whole NW - The Kinks aside - was the sudden death of a beloved dog and the grief that follows it.
I know, I know that some reviewers in the UK compared this novel to Dickens (of all things!) and I'm sure that thousands of readers worldwide found it sharp and loved its original structure, but to me it didn't work. And I'm genuinely sorry for that.

I look forward to liking your next novel.

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