NW

  • by Zadie Smith
  • Narrated by Karen Bryson
  • 10 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Somewhere in Northwest London stands Caldwell housing estate, relic of 70s urban planning. Five identical blocks, deliberately named: Hobbes, Smith, Bentham, Locke, and Russell. If you grew up there, the plan was to get out and get on, to something bigger, better.
Thirty years later, ex-Caldwell kids Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan have all made it out, with varying degrees of succes - whatever that means. Living only streets apart, they occupy separate worlds and navigate an atomized city where few wish to be their neighbor’s keeper. Then, one April afternoon, a stranger comes to Leah’s door seeking help, disturbing the peace, and forcing Leah out of her isolation....
From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, in this delicate, devastating novel of encounters, the main streets hide the back alleys, and taking the high road can sometimes lead to a dead end. Zadie Smith’s NW brilliantly depicts the modern urban zone - familiar to city dwellers everywhere - in a tragicomic novel as mercurial as the city itself.

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Customer Reviews

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I believe this book is best listened to than read

Author Smith says NW is about language, and I agree. Language is central to our understanding of the characters, and language defines their lives in many ways. I had the good fortune to listen to the audio of this title, brilliantly read by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet. Having access to a paper copy at the same time, I feel confident that the spoken version is an aid to clarity and understanding, and there was true enjoyment in hearing the range of vocal virtuosity by both readers. I did end up listening to it twice.

A clear example of how language can define one is the incident of a boneheaded young man with the posh accent, Tom, selling an old MG to the young man Felix, who had made great strides towards self-realization despite the tug of his background and the brake of his language. Any observer of that scene would immediately suspect Felix of putting the fix on when objectively that would be far from the case. And Keisha, or Natalie as she began calling herself, managed to change most things about her world when she changed her language. She became a barrister and even forgot what it was like to be poor.

But this novel is also about the process of becoming. To my way of thinking, there are only two central characters in the novel, Leah and Natalie. Both resist adulthood, but the choice is not really theirs to make. They become adults despite their attempts to hold back the process, and end up making decisions that demonstrate authorial control over their own lives, and stopping their ears to very loud protestations from their inner selves. Therefore they land in adulthood awkwardly, splay-legged and wrong-footed, and must find a way to right themselves again before acknowledging they are older, wiser, and already there.

Several other minor characters, e.g., Annie and Nathan, manage to avoid true adulthood altogether by burying their options beneath addictions. Felix was the one that was most consciously “becoming.” He strove daily to be a better man--for his woman, for himself, for his future family. He made himself happy doing it. He got clean, “was conscious,” and made himself and his family proud. But demons chased him down. Maybe you can’t really ever get free.

In the last third of the book, a 50-something female barrister “role model” dressed in a gold satin shirt beneath the expected blazer, and a diamante trim to de rigueur black court shoes tells Natalie: '“Turn yourself down. One notch. Two. Because this is not neutral.” She passed a hand over her neat frame from her head to her lap, like a scanner. “This is never neutral.”'

Of course I’d heard of Zadie Smith, but I’d never read her early work. She was so popular when she first came into print that I decided to wait to form my own opinion when the clamour died down. Sometimes it is so noisy out there when a new, talented author is heralded that I can’t hear myself think.

I never had the feeling while reading this novel that Smith was haphazard in her choice of images or language. The novel is constructed and in the end one looks up to see graffiti covering a wall with violent scribbles of bright color. Overlaid, a couple words traced in black paint stand out over the rest: SEX RACE CLASS
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- BowedBookshelf

Wish I had read this instead of listening to it

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend the audiobook if you are not familiar with Britain and its dialects but I feel that it does not easily lend itself to audio as many chapters are brief (one line) and disjointed. At the beginning I had no idea what was going on. Being a visual person, I found it hard to create a picture initially because the text was so vague. I think it may have been easier if I was reading the book and could slow down and fully appreciate this writing technique. As the book progressed and I got a better picture of the characters and neighborhood I really appreciated Zadie Smith's talent in painting a vivid picture, although I have lived in London and I think this also helped a lot with my comprehension of the characters and setting.
The readers did an amazing job with sustaining their character dialects. Wow!
Zadie does not put in any superlative text so you really have to pay attention when listening as it is not easy to rewind and find what you missed - it's often very subtle but every line essential to the story.


Any additional comments?


I have read Zadie Smith's other books. I think her style is better suited to reading than listening. She has a great talent for getting beyond the superficial and revealing the reality of our thoughts and actions; what really motivates people and the influence of society, race and class on the choices we make.

I will probably listen to this over again or read the text so I can fully appreciate it.

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- Patricia

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2012
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio