‘NW’ – Zadie Smith

 

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Zadie Smith’s NW is the perfect example of an instant modern classic; prose with the flair and flow of poetry that is indisputably good. One of those books that acutely reminded me why 18-year-old-me chose literature over law. Smith effortlessly locates the reader in North West London where her characters await, ready for you to observe every nuance of their lives.

The book is hardly a love letter to London but that didn’t stop me from reading it as such. It’s so hard to find an author who is capable of capturing the pace, diversity and feel of London, something Smith accomplishes with ease. Pinpointing the melting pot of London, where people are above all else Londoners, but constantly subject to the performativity that makes this so.

The title is surprisingly duplicitous: yes, the novel is about North West London (Barnet, specifically) but also about how lives and socioeconomic status often vary wildly from those just a few streets over. That the reality of ‘living well’ in London means always living reasonably close to those who merely survive. Kiesha Nathalie and Leah are two old friends with similar backgrounds who have ended up living drastically different lives, largely due to disparities in income and choice of partner. The book touches on the uncomfortable distance this creates in their friendship. However, both women are miles away from their ex-classmate, Nathan Bogle. Who, although they all went to school together, has become the kind of person both women would cross the street to avoid.

It’s an expertly executed psychological study into the kind of struggles ordinary people so often face. There seems to be a focus on those faced by Nathalie and Leah, through whom the reader experiences the pressures of womanhood and race, but there is a lesser focus on the expectations of masculinity as well.

Fundamentally, this study of people works as a lesson to its readers. Reminding us that nobody’s life is exactly how it appears and that no one is perfect. Something that, in this time of online self-promotion, is wholly important to remember. A great read.

~M

You can buy NW here. Zadie Smith’s new book Swing Time is out in November.

‘The Buried Giant’ – Kazou Ishiguro

 

‘ArFullSizeRender.jpge you still there Axl?’ To which he would answer routinely: ‘Still here, princess.’

‘The Buried Giant’ was published in paperback in perfect timing for my week on a Greek beach where reading, eating and swimming in the sea were the only activities acceptable. A complete technophobe and book lover, outfits were rejected in favour of space for my collection of reads for the holiday.

The historical setting of post-Roman Britain lends itself perfectly to the metaphorical and fabled journeys of the novel’s characters. This is a beautiful tale that explores the ideas of memory, marriage and truth (rather a deep concept to contemplate from a sun lounger).  The meeting of Sir Gawain the Knight and presence of a dragon doesn’t create a feeling of genre bending but rather cements this slightly ethereal tale, making the reader fully aware that Ishiguro is exploring higher ideas through the pages of this novel.

The allegorical journey of Axl and Beatrice and marriage is beautifully represented in their physical expedition to visit the son they have lost touch with. This soon becomes a quest to banish a ‘mist’ that permeates the land, clouding people’s minds, making them forget events and people.

This novel left me questioning my own ideas on memory, honesty and the idea of a ‘perfect’ marriage. Can a long marriage of utter honesty truly be content? Does fading memory actually aid compatibility? I have always been the strongest advocate of honesty and believe it is the foundation on which to build any relationship (much to the chagrin of some more reserved members of my family), but this novel highlights the potential flaws in this. Axl and Beatrice’s beautiful synchronicity feels aspirational at the opening of the novel, but as they begin to leave the ‘mist’ and its powers, their memories that remain just out of reach begin to damage their mutual idolatry.

All in all, this is not a book to read on a sun lounger on the Greek coast. It needs your full concentration and a mind that is ready to go beyond the ‘whodunnit?’ or ‘will they won’t they’ of usual beach reading. That said, it is an absolutely stunning piece of literature which I have already got on my ‘revisit’ list, ready for it to serve up more philosophical insights into old age, marriage and truth.

K~