I’ve mentioned several times how much I love a character-driven novel, which made Zadie Smith’s novel NW a book I simply couldn’t put down. Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan grew up together in a council estate and have evolved into adults with varying degrees of success. Throughout the novel we get to know them, either just a little or quite a lot, and to be frank, not much really happens. There are a few plot points and we can feel the book move in a certain direction, but it’s rather introspective and I like it that way.
Smith’s writing is all about voice and perspective. Her ear for dialogue is impeccable and you’ll often find yourself having to read phonetically to make sense of a certain phrase or expression. Her characters and settings feel all the more rich for it. And while she is speaking to a certain city, a certain culture, in this novel—much like Aravind Adiga was in White Tiger—a lot of her criticisms feel universal and timeless.
I hiccuped and stumbled my way through White Teeth, her debut novel, five years ago and had been too intimidated to pick up any of her novels since then. She’s a complex author and I suppose I didn’t feel like doing the work. But, NW feels more accessible and I’d highly recommend it if you’re into character studies as I so obviously am.
What are you reading right now? I read NW while we were in Italy, as well as The Knockoff. When I go on vacation I like to bring a fluff book and something a little more literary and serious. I have to say, however, that The Knockoff was the fluffiest of fluff, almost unreadable. I hated it! ha! I know it was meant to be a gossipy of-the-moment beach read but it was so steeped in online culture and vocabulary that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as the authors spent yet more paragraphs describing how Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other fictitious social media platforms worked. Furthermore, the characters were so flat and stereotypical that I found no enjoyment in either their successes or failures.
But, I have a hard time putting down a book once I start it so I pushed through it, finished it, and left it at the farmhouse where we stayed in Tuscany. Have you read it? What did you think? I wanted something light, but this was too far. Any recommendations on this front?