Read This Book: Zadie Smith’s NW

by Erika W. Smith


If you’re a Zadie Smith fan, you’ve been waiting seven years for her latest novel, NW. If you’re not a Zadie Smith fan, NW may turn you into one. 

NW stands for northwest — northwest London, specifically Willesden, Smith’s hometown and the setting of her first novel, White Teeth.  We follow the interlocking lives of four thirty-something Londoners as they try to escape the council estate (in American: housing projects) of their childhood. 

There’s Natalie and Leah, best friends since Natalie — then named Keisha — saved Leah from drowning when they were four years old. Differences in race, ambition, and class test their bond, but they remain inextricably connected.

There’s also Nathan, who went to school with Natalie and Leah, and Felix, whose connection to the other three characters is impossible to explain without spoiling the climax.

This is a novel of voices. You can almost hear the accents, and Smith perfectly captures the variety of dialect, slang, and speech patterns used by her characters. Likewise, she breaks from her earlier writing style to capture her characters’ internal voices with an experimental, stream of consciousness technique that includes Mapquest directions, instant messages, and a talking statue.

The result is a love letter to NW London: not just the buildings and the roads, but the people who live there, and the way they live. Even if you’ve never been to London, you’ll fall in love, too — with the city, with the characters, and with Smith’s perfect sentences.

NW, $16.17 on


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