Twenty-first century London: rich and poor, black and white, joyful and melancholy, boring and deviant—occasionally lethal.
Somewhere in the northwest of the city stands the Caldwell housing estate, a relic of '70s urban planning. Leah, an administrator for the lottery, grew up there. So did her best friend, Natalie, now a barrister, and Felix, an MG car mechanic.
Thirty years later these Caldwell kids and their partners live only a few streets apart, yet inhabit separate worlds. Until the day a desperate local woman comes to Leah's door seeking help—and forces Leah out of her isolation. But is Shar a stranger or a friend? Sincere or a fraud? A connection to the past or a threat to the future?
From private dinner tables to public parks, at work and at play, in this delicate but devastating novel of encounters Zadie Smith's Londoners find themselves navigating an increasingly atomized society. For some the city remains a place of happy accidents and chance good fortune, while for others it is darker terrain in which the main streets hide the back alleys, and taking the high road can sometimes lead to a dead end. NW brilliantly depicts this modern urban zone—familiar to city dwellers everywhere—in a tragicomic novel as mercurial as the city itself.
Watch Zadie's Tour of NW
274 Kilburn High Road
37 Ridley Avenue
The fat sun stalls by the phone masts. Anti-climb paint turns sulphurous
on school gates and lamp posts. In Willesden people go barefoot,
the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside. She keeps
to the shade. Redheaded. On the radio: I am the sole author of the
that defines me. A good line — write it out on the back of a
magazine. In a hammock, in the garden of a basement flat. Fenced in, on
Four gardens along, in the estate, a grim girl on the third floor screams Anglo-Saxon at nobody. Juliet balcony, projecting for miles. It ain’t like that. Nah it ain’t like that. Don’t you start. Fag in hand. Fleshy, lobster-red.
I am the sole
I am the sole author
Pencil leaves no mark on magazine pages. Somewhere she has read that the gloss gives you cancer. Everyone knows it shouldn’t be this hot. Shrivelled blossom and bitter little apples. Birds singing the wrong tunes in the wrong trees too early in the year. Don’t you bloody start! Look up: the girl’s burnt paunch rests on the railing. Here’s what Michel likes to say: not everyone can be invited to the party. Not this century. Cruel opinion — she doesn’t share it. In marriage not everything is shared. Yellow sun high in the sky. Blue cross on a white stick, clear, definitive. What to do? Michel is at work. He is still at work.
I am the
Ash drifts into the garden below, then comes the butt, then the box. Louder than the birds and the trains and the traffic. Sole sign of sanity: a tiny device tucked in her ear. I told im stop takin liberties. Where’s my cheque? And she’s in my face chattin breeze. Fuckin liberty.
I am the sole. The sole. The sole
She unfurls her fist, lets the pencil roll. Takes her liberty. Nothing else to listen to but this bloody girl. At least with eyes closed there is something else to see. Viscous black specks. Darting water boatmen, zigzagging. Zig. Zag. Red river? Molten lake in hell? The hammock tips. The papers flop to the ground. World events and property and film and music lie in the...
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“This is, hands down, [Smith’s] best novel to date.”
— Toronto Star
“[NW] is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.”
— Anne Enright, NYT Book Review
“Her dialogue sings and soars ... Smith is simply wonderful: Dickens’s legitimate daughter.”
— Independent (U.K.)
“No better English novel will be published this year.”
— Daily Telegraph (U.K.)
“A joyous, optimistic, angry masterpiece, and no better English novel will be published this year, or, probably, next.”
— The Telegraph
“And here [Smith] comes with a big, challenging new novel about the forces that poison our dreams of economic ascendancy. The title is the only thing abbreviated about NW. Everything else is luxuriously spun out, pulled and examined from various angles by an author who, like London, seems to have a camera on every street corner. The impression of Smith’s casual brilliance is what constantly surprises, the way she tosses off insights about parenting and work that you’ve felt in some nebulous way but never been able to articulate. While her own voice can seem crisp and clinical, it’s tinged with irony, and her dialogue ripples off the page in full stereo, whether she’s recording whole speeches or weaving together snippets of overlapping chitchat at a party that conveys, despite its apparent superficiality, a whole class of attitudes about the world. An extraordinary vision of our age.”
— Washington Post
“Absolutely brilliant... so electrically authentic, it reads like surveillance transcripts.”
“In NW, as in her previous novels, [Smith] creates full, sympathetic characters; she writes a smart, funny, but never too-knowing prose; and she remains an unerring observer of behavior and language, of the way people today talk, dress, act and feel (and even how they send text messages). These strengths combine to make her, as so many of the best English novelists have been, a sharp diagnostician of class. What Smith offers in this absorbing novel is a study in the limits of freedom, the way family and class constrain the adult selves we make. Smith, with NW, seems more than ever a great English novelist.”
— Wall Street Journal
“NW offers a nuanced, disturbing exploration of the boundaries, some porous, some impenetrable, between people living cheek by jowl in urban centers where the widening gap between haves and have-nots has created chasms into which we're all in danger of falling.”
“Excellent and captivating. Smith's masterful ability to suspend all these bits and parts in the amber which is London refracts light, history, and the humane beauty of seeing everything at once.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A marvelously accomplished work, perhaps her most polished yet.”
“A powerful portrait of class and identity in multicultural London.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“In her latest, Smith displays amazing inventiveness yet again. As ever, the author provides readers with sentence-by-sentence pleasures. Smith shows off her gift for sharp, funny dialogue — she's a master — and spot-on descriptions. Whether exploring intense awkwardness in marriage, in friendship or among strangers, the author does so with great empathy and insight. Uncomfortable encounters can yield wildly funny moments, but they just as easily collapse into cruelty and violence. Throughout, Smith avoids easy caricatures and stereotypes. She tosses her troubled characters together and delivers hard consequences for each. In NW, Smith raises smart and intriguing questions about the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, about issues of culpability and, above all, about the daily brutalities of modern urban life.”
— USA Today
“A writer staging a master class in freestyle fiction writing. Smith mashes up voices and vignettes, poetry and instant messaging, bedroom preferences and murder, and keeps it all from collapsing into incoherent mush with deft, dry wit.”
"One of the most eagerly awaited literary offerings this autumn"
"Packed with twists, turns and familiar details, it's a stirring, gripping piece of work"
"pleasingly complex... Smith will inspire you to view London with fresh eyes"
"it’s very good... Smith’s comedy and dialogue are both pitch-perfect"
"beautiful and complicated — just like the capital"
"NW... will not disappoint... Smith’s prose is as stylish and sharp as ever... Smith captures the capital in all its brutal glory, with wit and pathos... NW is a richly rewarding read"
"full of spot-on observations and dialogue"
"As usual, Smith is shrewd and often very funny"
"London... exposed in all its teeming, ruthless grime"
"Zadie Smith's wonderful new novel, NW, is a dense rendering of the social bonds and ruptures of a very particular corner of the city"
—The Sunday Telegraph
“So electrically authentic, it reads like surveillance transcripts.”
“Smith's masterful ability to suspend all these bits and parts in the amber which is London refracts light, history, and the humane beauty of seeing everything at once.”
“In NW, Smith offers a robust novel bursting with life: a timely exploration of money, morals, class and authenticity that asks if we are ever truly the sole authors of our own fate.”
“A marvelously accomplished work, perhaps her most polished yet.”