Contemporary

‘NW’ by 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~


Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

What a great book! I picked up my copy in a cosy little bookshop in East London called Brick Lane Book. It was the kind of bookshop that makes it all too easy to part with your money and one you’re tempted to set up home in (seriously, we were asked to leave!). I don’t usually buy non-fiction books as I’m normally preoccupied with the fiction / classics / YA sections but I recently binged watched Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series ‘Master of None’ and was itching to see what his book was like. I’m not sure I’m exactly in his demographic as the book is heavily focussed on being single in the modern age. But Aziz’s humour coupled with surprising insight and an impressive amount of research made this an engrossing read.

Ansari focusses on love in the modern world which entails, predictably, a lot of discussion about how technology has impacted our ability to connect with one another. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up a sociology book primarily written by a comedian but I was pleasantly surprised. Aziz Ansari (and co-author Eric Klinenberg) committed themselves to thoroughly researching this book using focus groups, interviews and even reddit. The effect of Ansari plus actual research is a kind of hilarious thesis about the pitfalls of modern modes of dating. Although the revelations aren’t all that surprising, the statistics and graphs make for an interesting read with Ansari’s humour an added bonus.

One thing I loved was the use of colour print. Seriously, more adult books should be printed in colour – I know it’s expensive but so thrilling to see. I must be sad because I was far too excited to see that smooth cobalt print.

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Overall, it is Ansari’s strong narrative voice that guides the reader through the research and keeps them entertained with insightful and often hilarious anecdotes and jokes. It’s a great read for people looking for love or otherwise.


 

The Martian Review –

 

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Happy [Inter]National Novel Writing Month! Typically, rather than spending the first day of the month writing, I dedicated yesterday to consuming Andy Weir’s book The Martian. The books pretty dense so devouring 85% of it in one sitting was no small gesture, we’re talking reading while you cook good. Despite having watched the film, which (as you might expect) spoiled the ending for me, I was still enthralled by Weir’s science heavy tome; set on Mars, the narrative follows Mark Watney who has been left behind by his crew, with limited food and resources, he works against the odds to solve one life threatening problem at a time.

Any book that hinges 80% of the narrative on one characters voice (a character who rarely interacts with another human being) should struggle. It should not be enough to read one man’s experience on an otherwise empty planet (with not even a Martian Queen to hit on!) and yet Weir manages it. Personally, I loved Watney as a character. It’s a pleasure to spend such an extended time in his head because his stark intelligence is tempered with a down-to-earth humour. Even more impressively, despite their comparatively minimal place in the book, all of Weir’s characters stand out. Even from the periphery you are left with a real sense of having known each of them. Weir has a real sense of character which is, I think, what makes this book so good.

From reading the book, it is obvious why this story was snapped up by Hollywood. Even knowing what was coming I found myself turning pages at a ridiculous speed. When I started I was a little concerned I would get tired of reading Watney “think” his way out of problems as I don’t have a particularly strong interest in physics / space but that was never the case. I won’t pretend to anyone that I understood it all but Weir really made me care.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it weren’t for the hype surrounding the film. I was drawn to it because I’d heard that Weir actually did all his research with just Google. This is important because what makes this book so realistic is the realism of the science involved. Fiction doesn’t have to be factual (thank god!) but Weir takes you on an intellectual journey with his book, Watney (and by extension Weir’s) use of hard science to save his own life is what makes the book so thrilling. In the same way great fantasy writers are able to interweave mythology to create a gripping narrative Weir uses science fact to create truly phenomenal science-fiction.

The movie is brilliant, the book is better.

~Molly

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