Down and out in North-West London

From The Telegraph:

Zadie_2318279bIt might be any one of a thousand things, but the thing which convinced me of the virtuosity of Zadie Smith’s technique was the word “anyway”. It’s one of those words that an inept novelist will use as characters begin to speak, to indicate casual dialogue. “Anyway, can you go to the shops?” But people don’t really use it like that. Nowadays, they use it at the end of a speech, or to suggest a change of subject. And that’s how it happens in NW. “… is really about integrity of like a, like a, like an idea? Blew me away. Anyway.” This is a book written by someone who really knows how to listen, and who truly understands what people are like, and what they might become. In a hundred years time, when readers want to understand what the English novel was capable of, and what English life truly felt like, they will look at NW, and warm to it. The novel is set in, and around, one of those mixed London suburbs where deprivation bangs up against wealth. The range is embodied in an old friendship: Natalie (once Keisha) Blake, now a barrister married to a handsome socialite in a grand villa, and Leah Hanwell, doing all right in a council flat with her black French partner Michel. Their friendship goes far back, but when we see them, Leah is irritated by Natalie’s social climb, her dinner parties, her new way of patronising her old friend. Natalie has climbed and climbed; Leah has stayed much where she was.

And there is also the sight of Nathan Bogle; once a beautiful boy at school, obsessively loved by Leah, now a crack-smoking wreck hanging about the bus station. Felix is someone none of them know; he will not meet Leah or Natalie at all, and will say only eight sentences to Nathan. His story, brutally cut short, is one of a struggle to overcome the troubles of the past, to do as well as can be done. His encounters with destructive privilege, and, finally, with Nathan, define his moral stance, his striving to improve. “There is no such thing as society,” Mrs Thatcher said. “There are individual men and women, and there are families.” There is such a thing as society in NW, but it’s the result of millions of individual lives, and the individual’s responsibility to take charge. On the other side to Keisha and Leah, there are the feckless: whether rich, braying Tom – “My father says there’s only two sentences a self-respecting Englishman should accept in this situation” – Trustafarian drug-addict Annie, or the poor, Felix’s disastrous father Lloyd and the crack-smokers who are forever trying to get money out of Leah – “My mum had a heart – a heart attack? Five… pounds.”

More here.