On Zadie Smith’s “NW.”

Both sweeping (in the chaotic breadth of its narrative) and exquisitely detailed (an extended sequence between two characters negotiating the price of a used car, for instance, has the reader hanging at every word), NW is an engrossing, electric, read.

What Smith does here with language is wonderful; it’s random, fragmentary, stream-of-consciousness. Not “postmodern” — though the novel is partly about that dizzying, interconnected, overstimulated chaos of our 21st-century lives, tethered to our mobile devices — it’s perhaps, more quaintly, modern. Joycean is the quickest, perhaps cliched, descriptor to mind, Smith popping into the heads of her characters, lonely flaneurs all, as they wind their way, through the council flats and streets of northwest London. The prose may not work for everyone; there’s a whiff of brash, first-draft-out-of-M.F.A.-school, experimentation (and to be clear, I’m implying nothing pejorative here), but when was the last time you saw established writers still willing to take these sorts of risks?

Also crossposted on Goodreads.

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