Go Northwest! Anna-Marie reviews Zadie Smith's NW

I love how Zadie deals unapologetically in the nuances of female friendships and their attendant jealousies, not frequently a concern of the literary novelist.
Publish date:
October 2, 2012
books, white teeth, zadie smith, NW, on beauty

September’s a dauntingly big book month. I have a lot of new reading to do as well as piles of unread-reading from the summer. But nothing got in the way of NW when it arrived – I read it in almost one go over the August Bank Holiday weekend (plans? What plans?). I loved White Teeth (so instant a classic that I had a university seminar on it about a year after it was published. I don’t think everyone there got it. Obviously I did), loved On Beauty and Changing My Mind and skipped the second novel (maybe I should go back to it).

My NW binge (which happened rather appropriately while my boyfriend was enjoying a Notting Hill carnival hangover) made me think about what I want from a novel… some kind of self-recognition? to be entertained? to be dazzled and enchanted? to believe in the book? Whatever it is I want right now, NW gave it to me.

It’s a rare rare work of contemporary fiction that manages to be relevant, artistic, experimental, passionate and authentic all at once. And there really are some characters in there who you might just bump into walking round the corner: the posh bird who lives above some working girls off Old Compton Street, shady neighbourhood chancer Shar, Felix bad-boy-turned-good… Of course I’m from Harrow [me too! Wooh, Harrow gurlz rock! Erm sorry, carry on... --Rebecca], just a few miles further NW than Kilburn, that mythical place where many of my friends’ parents started their lives in London so I do like to feel a little kinship with her from afar. And why not?

I love how Zadie deals unapologetically in the nuances of female friendships and their attendant jealousies, not frequently a concern of the literary novelist. What she does so delicately and carefully too is show London as the backdrop for many opportunities, missed and taken, contemplating her characters’ lives from school days through to adulthood. All of this is tempered by Zadie’s youthful sense of humour and the dialogue which she must have had a lot of fun writing – she certainly seemed to enjoy reading it at Book Slam earlier this month. And she made us laugh. A lot. (Check her out on the Book Slam podcast.)

Not many Vogue interview subjects get to say (and wear?) whatever they want either and in the current October issue she’s pictured wearing her own very lovely Equipment playsuit and quoted on tuition fees in an interview by the Guardian’s deputy editor. It’s a refreshing change from the standard celeb puff-piece so to celebrate I’ll share my two favourite bits from it which I think show both her super-appealing mix of playfulness and seriousness:

‘I’m angry and sad because my class is becoming extinct . . . The idea of a working-class person who can have a meritocratic rise has gone. Me, my husband, all the people who grew up like that: my life as it happened could not happen to someone like me now. Where would I get £9000 a year to go to Cambridge?’

‘How you dress is part of the joy of life . . . I do like to look a bit scary. Like a person of substance. As you get older you can get very grand. You can investigate capes.’

And, briefly, a message to the author: Please don’t take 7 years to write your next novel Zadie, we need you!

Republished with thanks from the original on