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Review: "NW," by Zadie Smith

This is an incredibly articulate book that took me quite some time to get into but grew on me throughout. I chose the book because it was listed on the Best Books of 2012 by the New York Times. I'm familiar with Ms. Smith's name and recognition, but have never read anything by her (although I may now). Interweaving chapters, actually small book sections, that don't really connect, but share characters at one point or another. Mainly, this is a bleak, yet rich portrayal of "NW" which stands for "Northwest" an area of London. These characters all are bereft of something and troubled in their own unique and individual way. Each section of the book is written in a different type of prose, e.g. Stream of consciousness, straight narrative, blunt, chopped up and numbered section. This is hardscrabble city existence, reminding me a lot of the short time that I spent in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 2007. Many Americans have a romanticized image /version of English life, either prosaic - countrified and old, or London as exciting cosmopolitan, but careful observance of newer films (Trainspotting, Green Steeet Hooligans, and a host of others,) offer a very different image. There is something post World War II bleak about modern England, culminating in the projects for low income established in the 1960's and 70's that comes across powerfully in NW. These modern characters in this novel are products of that environment, still living there (some for better, some for worse) and there is damage to be assessed because of their lives and the dire bleakness. This is character driven writing. The characters truly come alive on the page although their lives are not something to be envied. In addition, their own personalities and natures are their worst nemeses. They are not happy within their skin, save for one character who suffers despite his generally open embrace of the city. It's a good read, competently and directly rendered. I know that most of my friends would find it difficult or, to their loss, not compelling. They would miss a great reading opportunity.

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