NW by Zadie Smith

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“To be very objective about it, it is the woman’s fault that they never discussed children. For some reason it had never occurred to her that all this wondrous screwing was heading toward a certain, perfectly obvious destination. She fears the destination. Be objective!”

Do you understand James Joyce novels? Me neither. Zadie Smith does though. She gets that stream of counciousness thing that makes my head want to explode.

It’s hard to get used to the endless, strange streams of words and sentences in Smith’s newest novel. This isn’t like the other ones, folks—she doing a postmodern playing-with-form thing. That said, it isn’t a bad novel at all. Just exhausting and no fun.

Smith’s writing homeland has always been the explosion of culture that is our modern world. Swear words, sex, and the rhythms of language are woven into her prose.

This novel, perhaps more than any of her other novels, is about the problems of women in the modern world. Women, who may or may not have children and why. Women, who work in good jobs with other women. Women, who (within the lower class that this novel explores) live cheek by jowl with cultures completely alien to their own. Women, and the strange paths of the lives they lead.

Some modern authors try to treat their women characters as if they were male characters. The women think about sex just as much as men do, or they think about their careers in the same mindset that men are supposed to, or they just act such that, except for the name, you wouldn’t know if they were a man. This is better than the alternative of essentializing men and women into certain traits, but it’s still not treating women as equal to men.

Zadie Smith treats her women characters as equal to men. They are capable of the same level of complication, of contradiction, of sorrow, betrayal, and unfeelingness as men.

In NW, none of the women conform to the idea of women we as a culture have settled on. They are conflicted about having children; they are conflicted about their female friendships; they fail to engage on a deep “motherly” level with their children; they have all different kinds of approaches to sex.

Zadie Smith writes women so alive they feel like they could walk off the page, women who are what EM Forster called “round characters”: characters who will react differently in different situations while remaining true to their characterizations. They’re real.


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