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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 14 November 2016

"NW" by Zadie Smith

Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan all went to the same comprehensive school in Kilburn, NW London. Now Irish, red-headed Leah is a university educated charity worker married to black French beautiful Michel and living in a council flat with a shared garden, black Natalie (used to be Keisha) is a barrister married to a banker, Felix is a recovering alcoholic with a.complicated love-life and Nathan is a drug pusher and pimp. The lives intertwine again with fatal consequences.

This book has an uneven structure. The first 95 pages are Leah's story. It starts with her being scammed by an old school mate and it follows her through her guilt about her weakness and about her friend, reduced to begging and cheating. Husband Michel desperately.wants children but Leah, who used to.be lesbian, doesn't and secretly takes contraceptive pills and has an abortion. At the end of this section we find out what happened to Felix. We then go to Felix and spend 70 pages following him through the last day in his life. After this we go back to when Natalie was only 4 years old and we find out.about her.life to.date in 185 separate sections ranging in length between a paragraph to several pages over 122 pages. Finally Natalie spends 20 pages on a crisis ridden night with Nathan and there is a 10 page coda when Natalie and Leah confront their demons without resolving them.

A loose plot then. The joy of this book lies rather in the strength of the characters all of whom are given perfectly pitched dialogue. Smith is Dickensian in the way she evokes London and better then Dickens in her characters. There is Leah.s mum Pauline who loudly broadcasts her Daily Mail views to a bus crowded with Londoners of every ethnicity. There are two wonderful lads who arrange with a woman to have a threesome but haven't really thought it through: they don't want to see one another naked and would much rather watch the internet. There is Jamaican Lloyd who fathered Felix at 17 and now sponges off him.
Great lines from this brilliant book included:
  • "His belly stayed concave, a curtain sucked through an open window." p100
  • "The man can't satisfy the woman, right? Don't matter how much he gives." p109
  • "The girl's little dark face pulled tight like a net bag."p118
  • "the sort of nightclub where you leave your clothes - and much else - at the door." p132
  • "Felix collided with a real live young man ... Felix touched the guy gently on the elbows, and the stranger, with equal care, reached back and held Felix where his waist met his back." p 136: In view of what happens to Felix this beautifully choreographed dance of mano a mano tenderness is all the more poignant.
  • "We all know he [her twin] wished he'd gobbled me up in the womb."
  • "That she should receive any praise for such reflexive habits baffled the girl, for she knew herself to be fantastically stupid about many things" (p 178)
  • "Just because you can't locate the fathers, doesn't make them all immaculate conceptions." p 260
  • "You can't dream my dream. What you eat don't make me shit." p 316
  • "If you had any real self-respect, or self-esteem .... one person asking you to put a cigarette out in a fucking playground would not register as an attack on your precious little ego" p 283


An odd book. What is the point of the story? Is there a message? But as a celebration of the people who live in the greatest city in the world NW is brilliant.

By the author of White Teeth and Swing Time, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and The Autograph Man which I didn't really.

November 2016; 333 pages

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