Being a student I don’t generally buy ‘expensive’ hardcopies of any books. However, I attempted to wait for the release of Zadie Smith’s newest novel, N-W, in paperback and failed miserably. I managed a meagre two weeks before giving in and forking out £14.99 for the hardback from WHSmiths. I probably (almost definitely) could have gotten it cheaper offline, but I just didn’t want to wait for the delivery.
I must admit, I was a little bit let down by the cover of the book, which is nothing special. Perhaps my judgement is harsh because of the fantastic covers of Zadie Smith’s other books, particularly ‘The Book of Other People’, which is a short story collection that Zadie Smith was the editor of.
So, ignoring my lack of passion for the cover, I delved into the novel expecting one of Zadie Smith’s usual gripping introductions, but I found myself struggling to concentrate on the narrative. This was entirely because the dialogue was formed without quotation marks and instead used dashes to mark a new speaker. As a result, it sometimes required the rereading of sections to work out which of the characters said what. I’d like to think that invoking a struggle for the reader was entirely intentional, to reflect the problems in the characters’ lives, but even if not, it is difficult to fault Zadie Smith for experimenting with this quirky style as she has tried different things with her other novels which have worked wonderfully, such as the string of emails in ‘On Beauty’.
Regardless, I persevered with the novel, thinking that perhaps my expectations had been raised too high by Zadie Smith’s previous work. Eventually my patience was rewarded; in the second section the focus shifted and the annoying dashes had been ditched and speech marks returned (never again will I take speech marks for granted). I followed the story of Felix with curiosity, wondering where it was leading to and this question stuck with me throughout the novel, until all of the loose strings were tied up quite nicely at the very end of the book.
All in all, N-W gives the reader a lot to think about, much more than it explicitly states. There are constant suggestions about the state of society and about the members of a community struggling to cope in their urban surroundings. I cannot say it was my favourite of Zadie Smith’s novels, but N-W does back up the fact that she is an undeniably fine writer tackling the details and difficulties of modern culture.