LEAH MUSES ON MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
medley of gossip and jabber, advertising jingles, snatches of eavesdropped conversations. A communist postman quotes Keats; Felix’s playmate spouts Thomas Wyatt.
Only towards the end does Smith seriously misstep by having Natalie suddenly and improbably dabble in threesomes watched by online voyeurs. It isn’t enough to derail the novel but it makes us wonder how well Smith knows her own characters. Also, for a selfproclaimed comic novelist, lines such as ‘‘ I am decidedly not the salt of the earth [but] the cocaine on the mirror’’ and Natalie being ‘‘ helplessly, compulsively, adverbly addicted to the internet’’ are woeful.
Smith’s choice of structure means NW is occasionally episodic, lopsided and less than the sum of its parts. Also, there are traces of the gimmicky fonts and linguistic trickery that Smith relied on in The Autograph Man (2002).
But on the whole her case study of a London community is as real as the one we saw in White Teeth, and as inventive, only without the excess. The drama is resolutely low key — unhysterical realism — yet devastating in all the right places. That 10-year-old tap-dancer has grown up to become less flashy and even more sure-footed.
Zadie Smith has toned down the comedy in
her new novel