The Penguin Press, USA (2012)
NW tells the story of a group of individuals living in a northern corner of London and their various experiences in life. Leah starts off this multi-perspective tale with a dramatic event which seems to alter the very fabric of her existence. Unfortunately we are waiting to find out how and what exactly causes this change through the rest of the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the revelation that occurs is the realisation that she does not wish to have any children of her own. There is a clever kind of suspended mystery at play here, for although we know this to be the case from the beginning and as it is a fact articulated by Leah to herself throughout, we are still shocked or at least gratified to find its verbalisation to those closest to her to add another level of meaning when said out loud. Natalie (Keisha) is the other fundamental character to this story and her life is also disintegrating before our eyes. Initially her life, as seen from the perspective of Leah and Michel, is depicted as a bastion of marital and motherly bliss. She is successful, independent and a natural mother. All of these illusions are stripped away in the third section of the novel when Natalie is revealed as duplicitous and voyeuristic with regards to her own life. She herself feels to be disengaged from her identity and even her own life; watching with apparent boredom as she engages in various sexual exploits with multiple anonymous partners. All of this is presented to us as though it doesn’t really matter. No one really cares if Natalie is a nymphomaniac just as much as Felix’s death is nothing more than a blip registered on the eternal periphery of these interconnected yet absurdly disinterested lives. In a way, this allows for a much larger picture of NW, one which is built from the many mirrors and intersections of every day life to form a world where everyone and paradoxically no one is watching at any one point. The sense of observation bears down upon each individual story, each of which is linked indeterminably to another, and another etc and continum ad absurdium…
Certainly a great insight into life in a vacum and it being the first book I have read by Smith it will be my pleasure to read more.