Words Emily Anderson Illustration Lucinda Rogers
People of colour do not think of themselves as exotic or other to themselves. We think of ourselves as white people think of [themselves], as central to ourselves, and not some stylisation, political points, added extras: none of those things. We are ourselves”. Zadie Smith is crystal clear about what she aims to demonstrate in her fourth novel, NW, which she describes as “really just about a bit of north-west London and the people in it”. This multicultural neighbourhood is familiar territory, being where Zadie was born and her bestselling debut novel, White Teeth, was set. Smith was just 21 and still studying English literature at Cambridge University when she found herself in a literary battle, as publishers fought over the first few chapters of White Teeth. Before she’d even finished the novel, she’d secured a six-figure, two-book deal. White Teeth was a huge success, winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award, and has since been translated into more than 20 languages and adapted into a television drama. The British-Jamaican writer’s second novel, The Autograph Man, about obsession, loss and celebrity, was another commercial success. This was followed in 2005 by the Orange Prize-winning novel On Beauty, set mainly on a university campus in Boston – an apt setting for the writer, who is currently professor of fiction at New York University. In NW, we make the acquaintance of four friends – Leah, Natalie, Neil and Felix – who are drawn back to the estate of their childhoods in a reaction to the domesticity in which they now find themselves. Exploring class, sex and education, NW brings London – and the inner life of modern relationships – to sparkling life.
NW by Zadie Smith [Hamish Hamilton], £18.99 Copyright © Zadie Smith 2012