I remember reading about Zadie Smith’s first book White Teeth, which was published when Smith was 24, in Time Magazine when I was 16 and feeling equal parts awed and jealous of her anointing as the future of fiction. It’s odd to think that Smith is now 36, for some reason learning that in the interview she did with Interview Magazine put my age in perspective more than anything else has as of late.
NW is split into three different narratives: two childhood friends, Leah and Natalie, formerly Keisha, and Felix, an auto mechanic, all hailing from the same neighborhood in London. I wasn’t drawn in to Leah’s section, the first section of the book. Her ennui felt stifling. I read to attempt to escape ennui in my own life so this was suffocating. The rest of the book was an interesting study in how children starting out with the same advantages in life wind up, and how successes, failures, and love aside, the end result is a bleak one. Whether you’re zooming to the top in your career like Natalie, seemingly happily married like Leah, or trying to better yourself like Felix, you can’t escape futility.
Despite how dark NW’s outlook can be, it has an engaging rhythm and color to it, mostly a tribute to how well Smith captures different voices, accents and personalities in her writing. If you’ve read her other work, you’ll find NW more experimental, which I liked for the better.